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Designer drugs on the rise as demand for traditional drugs levels off

Photos: Central Narcotics Bureau, Singapore: University Medical Center Freiburg, Germany; UNODC. Please note that the products (pills and bathsalt) shown in the photos are simulated.
Photos: Central Narcotics Bureau, Singapore

NEW YORK – While the use of traditional drugs is largely stable, demand is soaring for untested concoctions of psychoactive substances that threaten to be more dangerous, the head of the United Nations drug and crime agency said, marking the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

The popularity of traditional drugs, such as cannabis – still the most widely used illicit substance – heroin and cocaine seems to be declining in some parts of the world, while the abuse of prescription drugs and new psychoactive substances (NPS) is on the rise, according to the 2013 World Drug Report launched today in Vienna, Austria.

Sold openly, including online, NPS are marketed as “legal highs” with nicknames such as “spice”, “plant food”, “bath salts” and “meow meow”, a type of mephedrone with effects similar to the effects of cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy.

“There is an alarming new drug problem,” UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Yury Fedotov said, using the occasion of the International Day against Drug Abuse to launch the report at a special high-level event of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the central UN policymaking body dealing with drug-related matters.

The drugs are called “designer” because they are based on existing illegal recreation drugs with chemical structures that are modified to varying degrees to evade the drug laws. The mixtures of NPS can easily cross from “safe” to toxic, resulting in “delirium and violent behaviour.”

The number of NPS reported by Member States to UNODC rose from 166 at the end of 2009 to 251 by mid-2012, an increase of more than 50 per cent, according to the UN agency. It now exceeds the total number of the 234 substances under international control.

“Given the almost infinite scope to alter the chemical structure of NPS, new formulations are outpacing efforts to impose international control,” Mr. Fedotov said.

In response to the proliferation of NPS, UNODC has launched an early warning system which the UN said will allow the global community to monitor their emergence and take appropriate actions.

UNODC is also supporting its “Make health your ‘new high’ in life, not drugs,” awareness campaign to inform the public, particularly young people, about the harmful effects of NPS.

“The campaign aims to mobilize support and inspire young people to act against drug abuse,” Mr. Fedotov said in his message for the Day.

While NPS is on the rise, the use of traditional drugs appears largely stable, according to the UNODC report.

The use of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), excluding ecstasy whose popularity dipped, appears on the rise worldwide. In 2011, an estimated 0.7 per cent of the global population aged 15-64, or 33.8 million people, had used ATS in the preceding year.

Methamphetamine continues to dominate the ATS business, accounting for 71 per cent of the global ATS seizures in 2011. Seizures of crystal methamphetamine increased 8.8 tonnes, the highest level during the past five years, indicating the substance is “an imminent threat,” the UN agency reported.

In Europe, heroin use seems to be declining, according to UNODC’s report. The use of opiates – heroin and opium – remains unchanged, but there are instances of higher opiate use in South-West and Central Asia, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and North America.

In terms of production, Afghanistan retained its infamous title of lead producer and cultivator of opium, accounting for 75 per cent of global opium production in 2012 of 236,320 hectares.

Meanwhile, cocaine, on the decline in the US – the world’s largest market – seems to be expanding in South America and the emerging economies in Asia.

Estimates of the amounts of cocaine manufactured ranged from 776 to 1,051 tonnes in 2011, largely unchanged from a year earlier. The world’s largest cocaine seizures – unadjusted for purity – continue to be reported from Colombia and the US at 200 and 94 tonnes, respectively.

The report is considered “a key measuring stick” in the lead up to the UN General Assembly special session on the issue in 2016 and the 2014 high-level review of the implementation of the Political Declaration adopted by the Assembly’s 1998 special session on the World Drug Problem.

“We have agreed on a path for our ongoing discussion,” Mr. Fedotov told the CND meeting.

He added that he hoped the discussions would lead to an affirmation of the importance of the international drug control conventions, as well as an acknowledgement that the conventions are humane, human-rights centred and flexible.

The head of the UN agency stressed that there must also be a firm emphasis on health and support for alternative sustainable livelihoods.

“It is also essential that we recognize the important role played by criminal justice systems in countering the world drug problem and the need for enhanced work against precursor chemicals,” he told the participants.

In his message on the International Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a comprehensive response to the world drug problem, one that included legal action and robust law enforcement, as well as prevention and treatment approaches “rooted in science, public health and human rights.”

“The goal of our work must be to reduce the number of people in prison, decrease the physical and mental health burden of drugs, and prevent HIV transmission,” he declared, adding: “Let us work together to help millions of people around the world escape the destructive impact of illicit drugs.”

The UN chief called on governments, the media and civil society to do everything possible to raise awareness of the harm caused by illicit drugs.

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Cannabis is not a drug, it’s medicine and has been for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s not a drug as much as we have cannabinoid receptors already built in. Built in because this plant is the earliest known flower and evolved with us over millions of years.

Sorry-It is classified as a drug. As a matter of fact there are a lot of drugs made from plants and they are still drugs. If you are going to argue your point get your facts right. It is a drug and it is illegal. If you don’t like the law get it changed but talking about it on here will do nothing to help that. The way you protest makes me think you have gotten caught with the stuff. If so, you are a criminal and your point doesn’t matter.

It’s not illegal for the majority of the population. You’re wrong again.

You are ignorant or just plain stupid. It is illegal where you live here in Iowa. We will put you in jail if we catch you smoking the illegal crap.

” weed on the other hand is a whole diffrent story, ive never heard of a pot head muggin someone for 20 bucks to get a sack of weed.”

You haven’t been paying attention to the crime rates around “legal” pot shops in Calif.

correct, but those are gang members robbing the dispensaries for money and large amounts of weed.not everyday pot heads trying to get high.

This story backs up much of what I said in a column I wrote for NIT awhile back. Especially concerning the fact that drug testing has pushed many people into more dangerous behavior.

Drug prohibition has been the biggest American mistake in our history. It has caused us to lose civil rights and trust in law enforcement and that’s just to start.

Are you nuts?? Illegal drugs and the people that use them have cost us a fortune and destroyed more family’s than anything else in this world. Alcohol was bad enough but nothing like drugs. These damn druggy’s will steal, kill and do most anything else to support their habits. We don’t dare leave our doors unlocked or leave anything outside at night or it will disappear and end up in a damn pawn shop somewhere. They wreck cars and kill people on the roads every single day and should all be locked up together and let them kill one another.

Some illegal drugs will make people do anything to get them so i do partly agree with lvs. Meth crack cocain heroin all the should be illegal. People will do anyhtin to get more of it, weed on the other hand is a whole diffrent story, ive never heard of a pot head muggin someone for 20 bucks to get a sack of weed. Kinda sad people will smoke legal fake weed that can kill them cuz they cant smoke weed without risking arrest. makes no sense, somthing that does no harm is illegal but k2 and all that crap that has put countless kids in the hospital or worse can be bought down at your local liquor store.

@ds-now that I tend to agree with you on. But, if you smoke weed when it is illegal and get caught you have just become a criminal. Better to change the law.

Why on earth would anyone want to pollute their mind with this kind of crap? I just do not understand why they want to ruin their lives and the lives of their family’s. All of the money we spend on educating kids and they do it anyway. It is just like tobacco, we have spent billions trying to educate the kids and easily 75% of the teenagers I see walking down the street have a damn cigarette in their mouths. It is like they all have a death wish.

Using drugs is the first sign of disrespect for yourself. It is a sign you have thrown in the towel…..given up on life.

You mean like alcohol & cigarettes?

The new bathtub gin brought to our community by prohibitionists like Branstad, Grassley, Harkin, Latham, and King

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