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New Components of the World Drug Problem

Investigating a Suspected Fentanyl Crime Scene. (File)

A very small amount of synthetic opioids goes a very long way, so overdosing on these substances is quite frequent.

New Components of the World Drug Problem
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Synthetic drugs, like fentanyl and its analogues, are chemically produced substances, and they can be exceptionally deadly. A very small amount of synthetic opioids goes a very long way, so overdosing on these substances is quite frequent. Criminal traffickers are exploiting the reality that the profit margin for synthetic drugs is high, in large part because they can easily be shipped to customers who order through the internet.

This is a new component to the world drug problem, said Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs James Walsh, at the recent G7+ Expert Group Meeting on the subject.

“Traffickers have developed new synthetic drugs that can mirror every major type of drug. These mirror images are not controlled within the international framework and therefore allow traffickers to evade law enforcement detection.”

Indeed, there are over 800 known new psychoactive substances, known by the acronym “NPS”, and more are created every week. A great many of these are synthetic drugs. NPS have no known medical use, yet they are not controlled internationally. That’s because the international community currently has the capacity to place just 10 to 12 NPS a year under international control.

“It is clear that our responses have to be more innovative, more nimble, and more adaptable if we want to out-pace these criminals,” said Mr. Walsh.

“If our shared objective is to enhance international control of synthetic drugs, then we must collectively prioritize efforts to provide [the World Health Organization], or WHO, with more data to inform its scientific reviews that assess a substance’s abuse potential and harms associated with its use.”

We should begin by using already-existing information sharing platforms, such as those supported by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, the International Narcotics Control Board, or WHO.

“We are all vulnerable. Anyone with an internet connection and access to international mail or express delivery service could be the next target. So, we must be resolute in our efforts to effectively respond to this new threat,” said Mr. Walsh.

“Tomorrow a new synthetic drug may well be the traffickers’ first choice, and our strategic responses must be nimble enough to adapt to curb tomorrow’s drug crisis. That is the challenge we need to start solving today, and it is one of the most difficult problems we’ve faced in our efforts to address and counter the world drug problem.”