Russian drugs on sale at market

State inspectors visiting a street market in Aghia Varvara, western Athens, for a routine check Thursday were surprised to find a woman selling Russian medicines for serious illnesses out of a box.

The inspectors confiscated hundreds of packages of pills and vials of medicine for intravenous use from a box that had been covered with clothes to avoid attracting attention.

The woman reportedly claimed to be Russian but she had no documents with her to verify her identity.

Inspectors were reportedly taken aback by the fact that the drugs were for serious ailments including heart and liver problems. All the packaging bore instructions in Russian.

A more thorough search of the woman?s belongings turned up a notebook bearing a list of orders. The customers? names suggested that most were ethnic Greeks from Russia but there were also some native Greeks, according to authorities. They fear that the book suggests the woman might be part of an organized ring trading illegally in imported medicines that are not subject to checks. Another worry is that the sale of over-the-counter medicines might be a cover for a trade in illegal substances.

According to sources, while the female vendor was being arrested, she was approached by a would-be customer who complained when she could not purchase any medicines.

Authorities are concerned that deepening poverty fueled by the repercussions of the debt crisis might spur an increasing number of citizens, particularly pensioners, to seek illicit medicines on the street.

Dimitris Christoulas, the 77-year-old pensioner who committed suicide in Syntagma Square on Wednesday, is believed to have had struggled to pay for medicines for serious ailments.

Cost-cutting in the healthcare sector and measures to stop doctors overprescribing drugs have led to cancer sufferers and other patients with serious illnesses being shuttled back and forth between their healthcare providers and the hospitals treating them, as doctors on both sides are wary of prescribing medicines that can cost several hundred euros a month.