• EN

Please note that the information on this page is based on the EMCDDA Annual report 2011: the state of the drugs problem in Europe. Most statistical data relate to the year 2009 (or the last year available).


Annual report 2011: the state of the drugs problem in Europe
New drugs and emerging trends

Published: 15 November 2011

Action on new drugs

The European Union's early-warning system has been developed as a rapid-response mechanism to the emergence of new psychoactive substances on the drug scene. The system is currently under review in the framework of the European Commission's assessment of the functioning of Council Decision 2005/387/JHA (1).

New psychoactive substances

Between 1997 and 2010, more than 150 new psychoactive substances were formally notified through the early-warning system, and are now being monitored. Over this period, the rate at which new substances appear on the market has increased, with record numbers of new substances being reported in the last two years - 24 in 2009 and 41 in 2010 (2). Many of these new substances have been detected through testing products sold on the Internet and in specialist shops (e.g. smart shops, head shops).

Most of the 41 new psychoactive substances identified in 2010 are synthetic cathinones or synthetic cannabinoids. With fifteen new derivatives detected in 2010, synthetic cathinones are now, after the phenethylamines, the second-largest drug family monitored by the early-warning system. The list of newly notified substances also contains a diverse group of chemicals, including a synthetic cocaine derivative, a natural precursor and various synthetic psychoactive substances. Derivatives of phencyclidine (PCP) and ketamine, two established drugs used now or in the past in human or veterinary medicine, were reported for the first time in 2010.

The emergence of new drugs based on medicines with known abuse potential is an example of how innovation in the illicit market requires a joined-up response from medicines and drug control regulators. This issue is more of a potential threat than an immediate problem, but given the speed at which new developments occur in this area, anticipating future challenges may be important.

Risk assessment

In 2010, mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone) became the first cathinone derivative to be formally risk-assessed. It was also the first substance to be risk-assessed under new operating guidelines (3). The risk assessment faced challenges related to limited availability of data, and also mephedrone's dissimilarity to previously assessed compounds. However, for the first time, toxicological screening data from an exploratory study with a group of mephedrone users was incorporated, allowing the findings to be better grounded in evidence than in earlier risk assessments.

Based on the findings of the risk assessment report (EMCDDA, 2010), in December 2010, the European Council decided to submit mephedrone to control measures and criminal penalties throughout Europe (4). By that time, eighteen European countries had already introduced control measures on mephedrone (5). The remaining EU Member States have one year to take the necessary measures.


(1) Council Decision 2005/387/JHA on the information exchange, risk-assessment and control of new psychoactive substances. Official Journal L 127, 20.5.2005.

(2) See the box 'Main groups of new psychoactive substances monitored by the early-warning system' on this page.

(3) See the box 'Risk assessment guidelines' on this page.

(4) Council Decision 2010/759/EU on submitting 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone) to control measures Official Journal L 322/44, 8.12.2010, p. 44.

(5) Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Austria, Poland, Romania, Sweden, United Kingdom, Croatia, Norway.

Bibliographic references

EMCDDA (2010), Risk assessment report of a new psychoactive substance: 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone), Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

About the EMCDDA

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is the reference point on drugs and drug addiction information in Europe. Inaugurated in Lisbon in 1995, it is one of the EU's decentralised agencies. Read more >>

Contact us

Praça Europa 1, Cais do Sodré
1249-289 Lisbon
Tel. (351) 211 21 02 00

More contact options >>

Page last updated: Friday, 28 October 2011