Spurred on by globalization, the legal high and synthetic drug market is causing a "fundamental shift" in consumption patterns, an EU agency has warned.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction released a report Tuesday which says consumers in Europe are turning to legal highs and synthetic alternatives to more "traditional" illegal drugs. The market is expanding rapidly, and pushed on by globalization, technological advances and the ease of which drugs can be purchased, the agency says that public health and law enforcement will be badly affected.
Legal highs have been linked to deaths in the U.K. and Europe. The problem lies within legally enforcing bans before new drugs enter the market; changing chemical compositions even slightly can negate any rule which declares them illegal. This way, the moment one drug is taken off the market -- such as methadrone -- similar but not identical types of legal high can take its place.
In addition, legal highs can be sold in stores or online. As long as they are labelled "not for human consumption" or "sold for research purposes" there is no legal barrier to selling legal party pills or powders.
"The unprecedented growth in the number, type and availability of new drugs over the past few years has seen the phenomenon take on global significance," the report says. "The rapid appearance of non-controlled alternatives to controlled drugs underlines the ability of the market to respond to changes in the legal status of psychoactive substances."
Over 280 new drugs are now being monitored by the agency -- which is a steep jump from only 49 in 2011. In 2012, 73 new psychoactive substances were recorded.
The European Commission is planning to propose new legislation over the legal status and trade in new drugs.
Read More: Financial Times
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