Some 348 new synthetic drugs have popped up in over 90 countries around the world, according to a report released today by the United Nations' drug agency [PDF].. The report confirms that meth remains king, and its production is growing in places you might not expect--like West Africa.
The agency also warns of the growth of "legal highs" referred to as "new psychoactive substances," or NPS:
Marketed - often wrongly - as 'legal highs' and 'designer drugs', NPS are proliferating but in the absence of an international framework, responses to the problem vary significantly from country to country. None of the 348 NPS reported globally in over 90 countries at the end of 2013 is currently under international control. However, in 2014, the United Kingdom requested the international control of mephedrone, a potentially fatal substance, under the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The use of synthetic cannabinoids, which mimic the effects of cannabis, is soaring; the total number of these substances almost doubled from 60 in mid-2012 to 110 by 2013.
Synthetic drugs have gained in popularity among the young. In parts of South and Central America, ATS use in younger age groups sometimes even exceeds that of cannabis and/or cocaine. In North America and Europe, certain NPS are more widely used by young consumers than traditional illicit drugs.
A particularly worrying development is that NPS are no longer restricted to niche markets. Evidence from almost all regions of the world indicates that tablets sold as ecstasy or methamphetamine contain substances other than the touted active ingredients - increasingly, they comprise chemical cocktails that pose unforeseen public health challenges. Emergency services may therefore find themselves unable to identify life-threatening substances and powerless to administer the proper medical treatment.
A synopsis of the agency's findings is here.