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Monday 24th June 2019

Warning over rise in 'legal high' drug use

27th June 2011

While the international community has made progress in the fight against the use of heroin and cocaine, the gains have been offset by a rise in the use of new drugs.


According to the United Nations, rising consumption of synthetic and prescription drugs should be the next focus of preventive efforts.

Seizures of new psychoactive drugs are on the rise, according to the annual report of UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The agency said a number of new synthetic compounds were now coming onto the market for illicit drugs, and were being marketed as substitutes for cocaine and ecstasy.

Marketing literature online claimed the drugs were legal, it added.

The new products were not being controlled by any government or regulatory procedure, and were being manufactured to supply a demand for psychoactive drugs that was increasingly diversified, the report said.

Some compounds are entirely synthetic, while others were based on cannabis, opiates and cocaine.

The UN said the drugs were intended to get around drug law loopholes so as to supply users of illegal and increasingly hard-to-obtain drugs.

Marketed as "legal highs", the new wave of drug abuse also included the non-medical use of prescription drugs.

This was a growing trend all over the world, in both richer and poorer countries.

The manufacturers create small structural changes to an illegal chemical compound, creating a new legal compound which delivers similar effects.

The producers are often well educated in scientific literature, and use it to find new marketable "legal high" substances.

Many of the new compounds come from Europe, where researchers and police found 40 new substances via the region's "early-warning" system in 2010.

This compares with jsut 24 new substances reported in the previous year.

The substances include derivatives of the worm treatment piperazine, cathinones, synthetic cannabinoids known as "spice", and mephedrone, which is often sold as a legal alternative to cocaine.

The UN report also identified a significant fall in potential cocaine manufacture, mainly because of a drop in cocaine production in Colombia.

It said global opium poppy cultivation rose slightly, driven by an increase in Burma.

Meanwhile, Afghan poppy cultivation was hit by a plant disease.

More seizures of cannabis resin and cocaine were happening in the regions where they were produced, and less in the regions where they were consumed.

As many as 272 million people around the world are estimated to have used illicit substances in 2009, the UN said.

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