Synthetic drugs are flooding the market, says new UN study |

The 2014 Global Designer Drug Assessment also reports that new psychoactive substances (NPS) are flooding a designer drug market, which has long been dominated by amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) such as ecstasy and methamphetamine. , now more widely used than opium or heroin.

“There is a dynamic and unprecedented global expansion of the synthetic drug market, both in magnitude and variety,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, director of policy analysis and public affairs at UNODC. “New substances are being rapidly created and brought to market, challenging law enforcement efforts to track traffickers and reduce public health risks.”

Marketed as “legal highs” and “designer drugs”, new psychoactive substances proliferate, but in the absence of an international framework, responses to the problem vary widely from country to country, according to UNODC.

None of the approximately 350 NPS reported in more than 90 countries by the end of 2013 is currently under international control. And although the UNODC has detected 348 NPS, the actual number of these substances available worldwide could be considerably higher, given that this figure only reflects reports from official sources.

The report also notes that the term “new” does not necessarily refer to new inventions but to substances that have recently become more available such as khat.

Khat, a plant-derived NPS until recently confined to traditional use in East Africa and parts of the Arabian Peninsula, is increasingly being trafficked from countries in East Africa, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, to European destinations, such as the UK and the Netherlands. , and even as far away as North America. Recently, khat has also been seized in East and Southeast Asia, as cultivation of the plant has spread to this region.

Meanwhile, the use of synthetic cannabinoids, which mimic the effects of cannabis, is skyrocketing; the total number of such substances nearly doubled, from 60 in mid-2012 to 110 in 2013.

The report notes that a particularly worrying development is that NPS are no longer confined to niche markets.

Evidence from almost all parts of the world indicates that pills sold as ecstasy or methamphetamine contain substances other than the advertised active ingredients and are composed of chemical cocktails that pose unforeseen public health concerns.

“Emergency services may therefore find themselves unable to identify life-threatening substances and powerless to administer the appropriate medical treatment,” says UNODC.

The 2014 Synthetic Drugs Report indicates that new global supply channels are linking former regional ATS markets. Supply routes to Asia, already the world’s biggest market for amphetamine-type stimulants and ecstasy, have emerged from West Africa and the Americas, the report said.

Since 2009, approximately 86% of ATS originating from West Africa seized at airports in Western Europe and Japan were primarily destined for Japan as well as Malaysia.

Methamphetamine seizure rates are higher than ever globally, mainly due to increased seizures in East and Southeast Asia as well as North America.

Methamphetamine, which can seriously harm users, continues to spread in Asia, posing an increasing challenge to healthcare providers and drug control authorities who deal with large populations of young people.

The report quotes Turkish authorities as saying that Turkey serves as a transit point for methamphetamine smuggling from Iran to countries in East and Southeast Asia.

Ketamine, a veterinary anesthetic, is more widely misused in East and Southeast Asia. Mainland China and Hong Kong accounted for nearly 60% of global ketamine seizures between 2008 and 2011.

Designer drugs are gaining popularity among young people. In parts of South and Central America, the use of ATS in younger age groups sometimes even exceeds that of cannabis and/or cocaine. In North America and Europe, some NPS are more widely used by young users than traditional illicit drugs.

UNODC continuously monitors and studies global illicit drug markets to better understand their dynamics. Drug trafficking is a key element of this research.

Alvin J. Chase