Lure, variety of designer drugs is alarming, U.N. agency says

Wed Jun 26, 2013 4:13am EDT
 
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By Fredrik Dahl

VIENNA (Reuters) - A sharp rise in the variety of legal "designer drugs" with names that entice young people into thinking they pose no risk is alarming from a public health standpoint, the United Nations drugs agency said on Wednesday.

The number of new psychoactive substances - marketed as "designer drugs" and "legal highs" - as reported by member states jumped by more than 50 percent in less than three years to 251 by mid-2012, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said.

"This is an alarming drug problem - but the drugs are legal," it said. "Sold openly, including via the Internet, NPS (new psychoactive substances), which have not been tested for safety, can be far more dangerous than traditional drugs."

Names including "spice", "meow-meow" and "bath salts" mislead young people into believing they are indulging in low-risk fun, UNODC said.

But "the adverse effects and addictive potential of most of these uncontrolled substances are at best poorly understood", the agency said in an annual survey.

Use of such substances among youth in the United States appears to be more than twice as widespread as in the 27-nation European Union, where the United Kingdom, Poland and France have the most users, it said.

New psychoactive substances can be made by slightly modifying the molecular structure of controlled drugs, making a new drug with similar effects which can elude national and international bans.

They are "proliferating at an unprecedented rate and posing unforeseen public health challenges," said the report that examines production, trafficking and consumption trends.   Continued...