Synthetic Drugs Skyrocketing UN Report
June 26, 2013

Growth Of Designer Drugs Outpaces Legal Controls, Says UN Report

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

The development of synthetic, designer drugs often outpaces the laws designed to control them, and a new report from the United Nations described a sharp rise in the proliferation of these so-called “legal highs.”

“New harmful substances have been emerging with unfailing regularity on the drug scene,” the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said. “The international drug control system is floundering for the first time under the speed and creativity of the phenomenon.”

According to the international agency, designer drugs like Bath Salts, MCAT and Spice have outnumbered controlled substances, like ecstasy, for the first time. The UNODC’s 2013 World Drug Report noted that the number of synthetic drugs has risen to 251, compared to 234 conventional drugs.

“This is an alarming drug problem,” the organization said. “But the drugs are legal. Given the almost infinite scope to alter the chemical structure of new psychoactive substances, new formulations are outpacing efforts to impose international control.”

The report said that use of these drugs among youth in the United States appears to be more than double that in European Union. The EU, UK, Poland and France were said to have the highest number of synthetic drug users.

New psychoactive substances, or NPSs, are made by slightly altering the molecular structure of conventional drugs in an attempt to evade legal bans while still delivering the desired effect.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic cannabinoids are second in popularity only to marijuana among American teens. The main compounds in these synthetic drugs attempt to copy the effects of the active ingredient in pot – tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Several of these and other synthetic drugs were banned through the US Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012.

Besides enjoying the top spot in the US, marijuana continues to be the world’s most used illegal drug, with at estimated 180 million users worldwide in 2011, according to the UN data.

The report also noted, however, that the overall rate of global drug consumption has remained stable and even declined for certain drugs.

"While the use of traditional drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, seems to be declining in some parts of the world, prescription drug abuse and new psychoactive substance abuse is growing," it said.

While heroin use in Europe and cocaine use in the US appear to be falling, emerging economies in South America and Asia appear to be related to an increased demand for cocaine in those regions.

The drug report also included revised data that showed a drop in intravenous drug use among HIV-positive individuals. In 2011, about 1.6 million HIV-positive individuals between the ages of 15 and 64 were also intravenous drug users, a 46 percent drop over the course of three years.

The decline is "in large part a result of the availability of more reliable information on HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs", the report said.

The UN drug office also noted that Africa is becoming a hotbed for the shipping and production of illicit substances.

"East and West Africa seems to be gaining in prominence with regard to routes for maritime trafficking," the report said.