2013 World Drug Report: Rise in New Psychoactive Drugs

Published: 26 June 2013


The number of new psychoactive substances (NPS) that member states reported to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime  rose from 166 in 2009 to 251 last week, according to the latest World Drug Report.

That 50 percent increase shows the challenge that emerging drugs pose to the international drug community trying to monitor and control them.

Psychoactive substances can be extremely harmful and are not controlled by international drug conventions. NPS is a label given all unregulated psychoactive substances that are available on specific markets. They are manufactured to mimic the effects of controlled drugs. While these designer drugs pose great health risks, they are legal.

According to the report, manufacturers have taken advantage of lagging law enforcement and developed drug alternatives to avoid the legal framework set up to control known substances. New strains or new drugs are out on the market before the old ones are proven to be illegal.

There is also a trend in NPS being sold under the harmless handles of household and everyday products, like room fresheners, bath salts, and plant fertilizer.

With widespread usage in Europe and North America, NPS appear to originate in Asia, in countries with advanced chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The drugs are trafficked over the Internet.

Five countries in particular account for almost 75 percent of NPS use: United Kingdom, Poland, France, Germany, and Spain, according to 2011 data included in the report.

The United States identified the largest number of NPS in the world. In 2012, there were 158 NPS drugs identified in the US, more than double the 73 NPS drugs identified in the EU.

Asia contains the second-largest number of countries reporting the emergence of NPS. The international emergence trend has seen an increase, particularly in the more recent reports from the first half of 2012.

. The UNODC has launched an early warning system for the international community to monitor the emergence of NPS and control it appropriately.