New psychoactive substances are becoming widely available at an ‘unprecedented pace’.
New psychoactive substances are becoming widely available at an ‘unprecedented pace’. This is according to the EMCDDA–Europol 2010 report on new drugs entering the European market (1), released on 11 May at the Annual meeting of the EMCDDA–Reitox early-warning system (EWS) network (see First international forum on new drugs). Once again, in 2010, a record number of new drugs were officially reported to the EMCDDA and Europol via the EU early-warning system (EWS) on new psychoactive substances.
According to the report, 41 new psychoactive substances were officially notified for the first time to the two agencies in 2010. This represents the largest number of substances ever reported in a single year, considerably up on 2009 (24 substances) and 2008 (13 substances).
The full list of substances notified, annexed to the report, shows a ‘rather diverse’ group, including: synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, synthetic derivatives of well-established drugs as well as one plant-based substance (arecoline) (2).
Under the so-called ‘Spice’ phenomenon, 11 new synthetic cannabinoids were picked up in 2010, bringing the total number of these substances monitored by the EWS up to 27. Responding to health concerns, at least 16 European countries have now taken legal action to ban or otherwise control ‘Spice’ products and related compounds.
The report gives an account of the risk assessment of the synthetic cathinone derivative, mephedrone, which led to the decision for Europe-wide controls on the drug in December 2010. A further 15 synthetic cathinone derivatives were detected during the year. Also documented is the first-time appearance of derivatives of two established drugs: ketamine and PCP (phencyclidine).
With a large number of new unregulated synthetic compounds marketed on the Internet as ‘legal highs’, the report describes the EMCDDA’s activities in monitoring the online shops selling these substances.
Commenting on this year’s findings, EMCDDA Director Wolfgang Götz said: ‘Given the speed at which new developments occur in this area, it is important to anticipate future challenges. While our early-warning system has recently upped its operational capacity to react rapidly to new substances and products identified, it currently lacks the ability to anticipate emerging threats. This could be addressed by actively purchasing, synthesising and studying new compounds and by improving capacity for investigative forensic analysis and research at European level’.
Roumen Sedefov and Ana Gallegos
(2) See Annex 2.
Drugnet Europe is the EMCDDA's newsletter launched in September 1996. The newsletter provides regular and succint information on the Centre's projects and activities to a broad readership.