UN highlights ‘alarming’ rise in new drugs

New psychoactive drugs are proliferating at an ‘unprecedented’ rate and pose ‘unforeseen public health challenges’, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2013 world drug report.

While use of traditional drugs appears to be declining in parts of the world, there is an ‘alarming’ rise in the use of new psychoactive substances, it says, with the number reported to UNODC rising by more than 50 per cent between 2009 and 2012 and new formulations ‘outpacing efforts to impose international control’.

Seventy-three new psychoactive substances were notified for the first time in Europe last year (DDN, June, page 5) and a total of 158 in the US, and for the first time their number is now greater than the total number of illicit drugs under international control. ‘What is actually known today, however, may be just the very tip of the iceberg,’ says the report, as systematic studies on the spread of the substances do not exist.

‘The emergence of NPS [new psychoactive substances], increasing non-medical use of prescription drugs and polydrug use continue to blur the conventional distinction between users of one or another illicit substances,’ the report states.

 Opiate use has remained stable, says the document, with heroin use apparently declining in Europe, while the cocaine market is expanding in South America and in Asia’s emerging economies. Around 1.6m people who inject drugs are estimated to be living with HIV, and there are ‘many regions where evidence-based drug dependence treatment and care are still not available or accessible’ says the report.

The document was issued on the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, and ties in with UNODC’s 2013 global awareness campaign Make health your new high in life, not drugs.

However, the Support. Don’t Punish campaign (DDN, May, page 20, June, page 4, including London, above) sought to ‘reclaim’ the date with an international day of action that saw demonstrations in cities across the world to promote ‘reform, alternatives and more human responses’.

Green Party MP for Brighton Caroline Lucas (pictured above) joined activists demonstrating outside the Houses of Parliament.

‘Governments now need to take an approach based on evidence – and one which deals with drugs as a health issue, not a criminal one,’ she said.

 Report at www.unodc.org

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