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How many drugs were detected in Europe during 2014/15? And what does this mean for the UK? Emerging markets identified by the European Drugs Report 2015 paint an interesting picture. 




The research report released from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), makes it clear that the boundary between the market categories of ‘old’ and new drugs are much less obvious than they once were. 

Emergence of high-purity MDMA


The emergence of high-purity MDMA is a deliberate attempt to differentiate it from ‘ecstasy’ which has a reputation for poor quality and product alteration. However, as the high-dose MDMA tablets hit the streets, concerns have been raised due to the associated health risks. 

With MDMA, the quality and supply is largely driven by the availability of what the report calls ‘precursor chemicals’ often used in the production of psychoactive substances. 

The availability of new psychoactive substances is also reportedly playing a role. The accessibility of synthetic cannabis is offering direct competition to low-quality, and relatively more expensive established drugs. This, it appears, is exacerbating the need to produce high-purity MDMA. 

Production of heroin changing


In terms of heroin, there are signs that the supply into Europe is changing. Traditionally, Afghanistan has been the dominant opiate source for Europe, but the report notes the increase of heroin processing laboratories in Europe, which hasn’t been seen before. 

The report, however, notes that “the long term picture shows clear improvement overall and illustrates the impact that the provision of appropriate substance misuse services can have.”

Emerging virtual drugs markets


The internet is cited as playing a more established role in drug supply. Both psychoactive substances and illicit drugs are offered for sale on the surface and deep web. This is likely to pose a problem for respective authorities as the emergence of new marketplaces is instantaneous. It’s also incredibly easy for producers to access information on the chemical structure of psychoactive substances. 

The users of these largely unknown drugs are diverse, with the report citing school students, party-goers, psychonauts, prisoners and injecting drug users. In part, the diversity of users across Europe has been fuelled by the fact that psychoactive substances have acted as market substitutes when the availability of more established illicit drugs have either been low or the quality has been poor. 

It’ll be interesting to see if the introduction of high-purity established drugs, such as MDMA, will have an impact on the consumption of new psychoactive substances. 

No slow-down in new psychoactive drugs


For the moment though, the pace of emerging new psychoactive drugs has not diminished. In 2014/15 101 new psychoactive drugs were detected for the first time. The EU Early Warning System is currently monitoring more than 450 new psychoactive substances. 

Worryingly, and perhaps as countries such as ourselves prepare for a blanket ban on psychoactive substances, the production and supply is becoming more complex. Many products are being labelled as ‘research chemicals’, suggesting it’s not intended for human consumption. Sold through online retailers and specialised shops, we’re seeing an increasing number offered through the same channels as illicit drugs. 

Of the 101 new psychoactive drugs detected in 2014, 31 were synthetic cathinones. In the UK, Romania and Hungary, there’s been a reported rise in treatment demand associated with synthetic cathinone use, especially by those opioid users injecting synthetic cathinones. In England, the number of first-time treatment entrants for mephedrone dramatically increased from 900 in 2011/12 to 1641 in 2013/14. 

New drugs: increasingly linked with drug related harm and deaths


Recent analysis by the European Drug Emergencies Network, which monitors emergency presentations in 10 European countries, found 9% of all drug related emergencies involved new psychoactive substances; mainly cathinones. 

A 2015 review showed the most frequent health effects linked to synthetic cannabinoids to be tachycardia, extreme agitation and hallucinations. In Hungary, new psychoactive substances were detected in half of the reported drug-induced deaths. 
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