Most drugs, whether plant-based or synthetic, require chemicals to transform them into the final product. While chemicals are only one of the components required for the clandestine manufacture of plant-based drugs (heroin and cocaine), they constitute the essential components of illicitly manufactured synthetic drugs.
Given the growing manufacture of synthetic drugs, the control of such chemicals, known as precursors, has emerged as a key supply control strategy because the traditional approaches, such as eradication of illicit crops and alternative development, cannot be applied to synthetic drugs.
There are potential vulnerabilities in the structure of and trends in the production of and trade in chemicals that are used in the illicit manufacture of drugs. The international community has, over the years, strenghtened a control system aimed at enabling the legal trade of such chemicals while preventing their diversion into illicit manufacture.
Some successes have been achieved in precursor control, but they have prompted a range of reactions from the traffickers and manufacturers of illicit drugs, which create new challenges for the international drug control system.