The UN drug control agency on Wednesday sounded the alarm on the spread of designer drugs, which are sold openly and legally and sometimes result in deadly highs, while reporting that global drug use generally remains stable.
Such substances “can be far more dangerous than traditional drugs,” the agency said in a statement accompanying its annual report.
“Street names, such as ‘spice,’ ‘meow-meow’ and ‘bath salts’ mislead young people into believing that they are indulging in low-risk fun,” the agency said.
A six-page summary of the report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime warned that “the international drug control system is foundering, for the first time, under the speed and creativity” of their proliferation.
It said countries worldwide reported 251 such substances by mid-last year, compared with 166 at the end of 2009. The problem, the report said, is “hydra-headed” in that as fast as governments ban the drugs, manufacturers produce new variants.
Nearly 5 percent of EU residents aged between 15 and 24 have already experimented with such drugs, the report said.
In the US, 158 kinds of synthetic drugs were circulating during last year, more than twice as many as in the EU, and use was growing in East and Southeast Asia, including China, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
US Office of National Drug Control Policy director Gil Kerlikowske said the US faces “continuing challenges with prescription drug abuse and new synthetic drugs.”
However, he also noted successes, telling participants meeting in Vienna for the report’s launch that US cocaine use has decreased by 50 percent since 2006.
In a statement accompanying the organization’s 151-page report, UN Office on Drugs and Crime head Yury Fedotov said that while drug use and production overall appears to be stable in recent years, illicit drug consumption still kills about 200,000 people each year.
However, the office lowered its estimate of the number of people injecting drugs and those living with HIV worldwide because of such injections.