A U.N drug agency is warning that illegal internet pharmacies are selling illicit drugs and prescription medicines online and are increasingly targeting young audiences via social media.

The report, released on Tuesday by the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), quotes its head Hamid Ghodse as saying the increasing use of social media by drug sellers "can put large, and especially young, audiences at risk of dangerous products."

This is of particular concern as the report reveals that given that the World Health Organization has found that over half of the medicines from such illegal pharmacies are counterfeit.

The Vienna-based board now urges governments to close down illegal internet pharmacies. It also calls on them to seize substances which have been illicitly ordered on the internet and smuggled through the mail.

Key aspects of illegal internet pharmacies' activities, according to the report, include "smuggling their products to consumers, finding hosting space for their websites and convincing consumers that they are legitimate".

"International illicit pharmacies are using social media and they are not just coming overtly as they used to do, advertising their selling of illicit drugs to you, they do it under a variety (of different ways).

''They use YouTube, they use Facebook, they attract you to their website ... Then when you go there you will see they are also selling illicit drugs, added Ghodse, reported in the Telegraph

The report also suggests that certain cities in the UK have become "no-go" areas because of escalating drug problems.

The report suggests there is a 'a vicious cycle of social exclusion and drugs problems and fractured communities'' in cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester and that drug abuse and trafficking has become "virtually endemic", saying: "Part of a vicious cycle involving a wide array of social problems such as violence, organised crime, corruption, unemployment, poor health and poor education."

President of the International Narcotics Control Board Hamid Ghodse (Reuters)
President of the International Narcotics Control Board Hamid Ghodse (Reuters)