Designer drug bans urged by UN agencyPosted on March 2nd, 2011 No comments
Bans on whole classes of substances should be adopted to curb rapid spread of designer drugs, report says
The development of designer drugs is escalating so fast that national governments need to adopt generic bans on new substances, the UN’s drug agency has urged.
The International Narcotics Control Board reports that illicit opium production in Afghanistan halved during last year to 3,600 tonnes – due to a fungus affecting the poppy plants, rather than efforts of American or British troops.
The impact on heroin supplies in Britain and western Europe will be small because existing opium stocks total about 12,000 tonnes, equal to 2.5 years’ worth of global demand.
The board’s annual report, published on Wednesday, confirms that cocaine use is continuing to rise in Britain, where it has replaced amphetamines and ecstasy in popularity. Britain is increasingly being used as a gateway to Europe by cocaine smugglers alongside more traditional routes through Spain and the Netherlands.
The Vienna-based drugs agency also highlights the disparity in access to legal pain relief drugs in the developing and developed worlds. “Ninety per cent of the licit drugs are consumed by 10% of the world’s population in the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and some European countries,” said Hamid Ghodse, the board’s president.
Ghodse, who is professor in international drug trafficking at St George’s, University of London, said it should be recognised that many countries in Africa, Asia and parts of South America had little or no access to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for medical purposes.
The agency says that the use of designer drugs such as mephedronehas spread rapidly via the internet since they appeared in 2007, with seizures reported last year across North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in Europe.
The board defines designer drugs as those manufactured with a minor modification to the molecular structure of an existing substance to create a new one that imitates the effects of ecstasy, amphetamines and cocaine but is not banned by existing controls.
Britain, along with Ireland and Poland, has been among the first to introduce legislation temporarily banning designer drugs as soon as they appear, subject to a proper examination of their health effects.
But the board wants countries to go further and adopt American-style legislation imposing generic bans to control entire groups of such substances. It recommends that governments should be preparing to ban replacements for mephedrone. The report notes that Japan has so far banned 51 separate designer drugs and Belarus, Brazil and Finland have also taken action.
The UN agency says that last year’s 50% drop in opium production in Afghanistan has been accompanied by an explosion in prices, with a kilogram of dry opium being sold for $207 (£127) compared with $78 in 2009. It predicts that this may lead Afghan farmers to grow even more opium poppy in 2011.
Western Europe, including Britain, is the world’s largest heroin market, accounting for almost half the world’s production. The report notes that the increasing importance of Britain to cocaine smugglers reflects the decline in the past three years in the smuggling route from South America to west Africa and then into southern Europe.