Synthetic cathinones are increasingly being reported to the EMCDDA and Europol via the EU early-warning system (EWS). These ‘designer’ compounds, structurally related to amphetamine, are derivatives of the parent compound cathinone, one of the psychoactive ingredients found in khat (Catha edulis). In 2008, six of the 13 psychoactive substances reported via the EWS were synthetic derivatives of cathinone.
Some 15 synthetic cathinones are currently being monitored through the EWS, among these mephedrone (1). Now apparently more popular among drug users as a ‘legal high’ — legal alternative to amphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy — the substance has recently attracted considerable media attention. To date, there has been one confirmed mephedrone-related death in Sweden and others suspected in the UK.
A rapid audit on the availability of mephedrone on the Internet at the end of 2009 showed that at least 31 websites were selling the substance, around three-quarters of them being dedicated mephedrone sites. Mephedrone may be advertised on the Internet as a ‘research chemical’, ‘bath salts’ or ‘plant food’ and ‘not for human consumption’. Often no indication is given in the product information of the presence of psychoactive substances.
On 20 January, following an examination of the available information on mephedrone to date, the EMCDDA and Europol agreed to launch a formal procedure to collect further information on the substance (2). This will lead to the production of an EMCDDA–Europol Joint report to be presented to the Council of the EU, the European Commission and the European Medicines Agency. On the basis of this report, a decision can be taken on whether or not to launch a formal risk-assessment procedure on the substance (3).
Action on new drugs team
(2) Article 5, Council Decision 2005/387/JHA on the information exchange, risk assessment and control of new psychoactive substances, OJ L 127, 20.5.2005, p. 32.
(3) Article 6.1 of the above Council Decision.
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