Speech by Wolfgang Götz, EMCDDA Director at the Third international multi-disciplinary forum on new drugs

Third international multi-disciplinary forum on new drugs

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to the Third international multidisciplinary forum on new drugs. I am really glad to see such an impressive audience of European and international participants.
This forum — which has been organised by the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA), in cooperation with the EU law enforcement agency (Europol) — takes place in conjunction with the 13th Annual meeting of the Reitox early warning system (EWS) network and the Europol second law-enforcement meeting on new psychoactive substances.

Yesterday we celebrated International day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking. The slogan chosen by the United Nations for this year was: Make health your 'new high' in life, not drugs. Marking the day, the UNODC launched its World drug report 2013, which, this year, has a strong focus on new psychoactive substances.

As you are aware, the issue of new psychoactive substances has been at the heart of the EMCDDA’s work for some years already. Since 1997, we have been running, with Europol, the EU early warning system for monitoring new psychoactive substances. This system provides the EU Member States with an information-exchange mechanism for reporting on, and responding to, the emergence of new drugs. It was recently acknowledged as best practice, both in a resolution of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and in a G8 statement on illicit drugs.

Today, we have with us at the forum, around 110 international experts from both academic and operational backgrounds and from a wide range of disciplines, including: epidemiology, forensic science, healthcare, law enforcement, criminology and policy.

  • We have representatives from the 30 EMCDDA member countries, as well as from Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, Ukraine and the USA;
  • Other participants include representatives from: Europol, the European Medicines Agency (EMA); the European Commission; the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).

This third forum, beginning today, will build on the results of the first forum, which the EMCDDA organised in Lisbon in 2011, and the second, co-organised by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the EMCDDA in Palm Springs in 2012. These events focused on the growing global nature of the phenomenon and the importance of international cooperation in responding to the issue.

Only a few years ago, new drugs were generally regarded as being of limited significance to drug policy. The continued growth of the market, however — particularly the ‘legal highs’ phenomenon — has seen the issue develop into a complex policy challenge that is now of major international concern.

Around one new drug a week is detected in the EU and reported to the EWS. We are seeing the development of a dynamic new market, with considerable effort being invested in identifying substances that can be used as alternatives to controlled drugs. These substances are packaged and marketed with a degree of sophistication, often sold via the Internet, and are growing in popularity in various parts of the world. Many of these chemicals are difficult to detect and are highly active, meaning that a small-volume package can contain many thousands of doses.

This market growth has been driven by entrepreneurs who have exploited gaps in drug regulation. It has also been fuelled by the increasingly globalised and interconnected world in which we live. As a result of this, we are now seeing an unprecedented growth in the number, type and availability of new drugs, a growing interplay between the new drugs and illicit drug markets and a greater involvement of organised crime.

Significant developments in the field of new drugs have seen it evolve into a complex challenge for scientists, law enforcers and policymakers.

This year, due to the significant increase in the number of new drugs detected in the EU, the forum will:

  • focus on methods and mechanisms to monitor new substances, emerging trends and pioneering legislative approaches;
  • identify information gaps and research needs;
  • anticipate future developments and challenges;
  • explore the role that can be played by law enforcement; and
  • explore the added value that can be provided by coordinated efforts.

I wish you a fruitful meeting and an enjoyable stay in Lisbon.

Thank you