A new drug is reported in Europe at a rate of about one every week, according to a new report.
• Concerns over emerging synthetic drugs
• Around 50 new drugs have been detected this year
Some 50 new substances have already been detected this year, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said, with new drugs reported in the EU at the rate of around one per week.
A total of 49 new “psychoactive” substances were officially notified for the first time in 2011, the EMCDDA said - the largest number ever reported in a single year, up from 41 in 2010, and 24 in 2009.
And preliminary data for 2012 showed no signs of a decline, with more than 50 already detected so far this year.
According to the EMCDDA’s annual report, The State of the Drugs Problem in Europe, the number and diversity of substances reported is rising and drugs are becoming more obscure.
Obscure chemical groups
All new drugs notified last year and so far this year were synthetic, with more obscure chemical groups being reported, it said.
The agency said Europe is faced with an increasingly complex stimulant market, with consumers confronted with a wide variety of powders and pills.
While cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines continue to be the main stimulants, they are competing with a growing number of emerging synthetic drugs, such as cathinones - which include mephedrone or “meow meow”.
Cecilia Malmstrom, European Commissioner with responsibility for the EMCDDA, said: “Stimulant and synthetic drugs play a central role in the European drug situation, creating a market which is fast-moving, volatile and difficult to control.
“More than ever before, young people are exposed to a plethora of powders and pills. Data from emergency rooms, toxicology reports and drug treatment centres indicate that the associated risks are not always well known by the users.”
The report, launched in Lisbon today, revealed that amphetamine-type stimulant 4-methylamphetamine (4-MA) is now under scrutiny after several deaths in Europe, including the UK, were linked to its use.
It will be looked at by the EMCDDA’s Scientific Committee with experts from the European Commission, Europol and the European Medicines Agency.
Despite risks from new substances, the dangers of “older-new” drugs including GHB, GBL, ketamine, mephedrone and PMMA, should not be overlooked, the report said.
Its report also revealed a record number of online shops selling “legal highs” - with 693 online retailers purportedly selling psychoactive products to EU countries, up from 170 in January 2010.
Three natural products - kratom, salvia and hallucinogenic mushrooms - lead the top 10 legal highs most frequently offered online, but the remaining seven substances were synthetic.
The five countries with the highest levels of use, which include the UK, reported some decline in use last year, echoing a trend in Canada and the United States, it said.
The report also found that heroin is playing a less central role in Europe’s drugs problem, but said agencies are “on alert” after anthrax outbreaks among users in four nations including the UK.
Commenting on the report, Ms Malmstrom said: “This new analysis from the EMCDDA is particularly welcome as it highlights the drug problems we share across the European Union and informs the work we are currently undertaking to strengthen Europe’s strategic and operational approach to drug trafficking and use.
“I am particularly struck by the speed of developments we are now seeing in the area of synthetic drugs. I think it is clear to all that strong and co-ordinated actions are required if we are to respond effectively in this area.”