The European Union’s (EU) war against drugs has reached another setback following the fast spread of new psychotic drugs that has not yet been made illegal. A recent survey by Eurobarometer shows that a new drug has been created every week for the past two years.
By Laura Barrett
Following this alarming trend, the European Commission has announced an overhaul of the previous anti-drugs legislation in order to stop the increase in production of illicit substances known as Designer drugs. However this leaves the question of whether the new rules will be realised in time to prevent the widespread growth of this new drug trade.
In a recent press release Viviane Reding, Vice-president of the European Commission and Justice Commissioner, emphasises the urgency needed to stop this fast growing drug trade.“New synthetic drugs are becoming widely available at an unprecedented pace in Europe. In addition, drug trafficking has become one of the most important crimes committed cross-border in the European Union,” said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding.
An alarming trend
The growing phenomena of synthetic drugs is increasing at a daily rate, where these drugs are created and sold legally under fake names such as bath salts and incense. These substances imitate the effects of cocaine and ecstasy; they are extremely dangerous as the side effects and the risk of death are relatively unknown.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) found in the 2010 annual report that 41 new psychotic substances were officially notified in the European Union that year.
“The number of new compounds reported in 2010 was higher than ever; the list of newly notified substances was rather diverse and included a plant-based substance, synthetic derivatives of well-established drugs, as well as substances that can be described as ‘designer medicines’” according to the 2010 annual report.”
Overhaul of legislation
Matthew Newman, spokesperson for Viviane Reding , explains the measures that are being taken to combat this issue. “What we are doing is reviewing the legislation about how synthetic drugs are controlled in the EU”
The two most important steps Matthew Newman’s believes are the reform of the rules for banning synthetic drugs and defining the different drug precursors.
“We are looking into the legislation and how we can reform it to make it faster to make sure these drugs deemed to be dangerous are off the market much faster… we are also looking at what we call drug precursors and these are the chemicals that are used to make drugs ” explains Matthew Newman.
The need to reform drug trafficking and the cross border sanctions for drug trafficking is another pressing issue. “Right now there is an existing framework on drug trafficking but its applied rather inconsistently by the various member states” Matthew Newman explains
“We are looking at that as an important way of fighting drugs and drug trafficking “says Matthew Newman.
Too long a process
These synthetic drugs are coming onto the market at an increasingly fast rate, but the slow legislation within the EU is halting the process of preventing this issue.
Matthew Newman explains that the process right now takes many months to get drugs and new drugs banned.
“It first comes from a recommendation from the individual member state… they consult with the drug agency in Portugal which monitors illegal drug use in the EU…they make a recommendation to the commission…then the commission evaluates it and we make recommendations to the council, then the council bans it.”
He believes that it’s a very lengthy, multiple step process that needs to be streamlined. “We have to have a much easier, faster way to react. We have banned drugs in the past like Mephedrone but that took 18 months to ban and by then people are moving onto other drugs, such as the party drugs and smart drugs”
Will it be too late?
Researchers are worried that by the time the new legislation has been realised which could be as late as the end of next year, that the synthetic drug industry would have become more popular and widespread by then.
According to the Eurobarometer survey,new synthetic drugs are increasingly popular with 5% of young Europeans saying they have used them. The figures are the highest in Ireland (16%), followed by Poland (9%), Latvia (9%), the UK (8%) and Luxembourg (7%).
Matthew Newman believes that there these are a package of measures that need to be taken as it’s such a broad, fast moving area where consumption of drugs changes very quickly.
Marianne Linnet, who is completing her European Master of Drug and Alcohol Studies, describes the process these synthetic drugs go through that makes them such a threat to society.
“If the people who produce these designer drugs just alter a minor group or a minor part of this chemical then it is a new drug, and then they can give it a new name. It might potentially have almost the same effect and it might have the same side effects but nobody knows; its trial and error” she explains.
Psychotic drugs include legal ingredients which make them legal products that can be sold anywhere, making it harder for the EU to ban them. Matthew Newman says that these drugs are extremely toxic and dangerous.
“People will take these drugs and think that they are harmless as they are legal and you can buy them on the internet. There have been reports of death.”
The side effects of these drugs are relatively unknown along with the number of drugs that is available to be purchased. “It’s a very big issue, they make new drugs every month, it’s very scary” says Marianne Linnet.
Where to now
Marianne Linnet believes that the problem in solving the drugs issue lies within the EU. “I think one of the reasons why it’s so difficult in Europe to make these bans is because Europe is not a uniformed geographical area, definitely not uniform in terms of drugs.”
In order to change this ever growing problem Marianne Linnet thinks there needs to be more reforms on social problems within member states rather than just focusing on the legislation.
A lot of the social issues are much more important, if you made an effort on all the youth that are unemployed there would probably be fewer drugs. Unemployment gives more drug addicts, bad schooling gives more drug addicts” says Marianne Linnet.