INCB: Unprecedented surge in abuse of new psychoactive substances a 'grave risk' to public health

Bangkok (Thailand), 7 March 2013
- New psychoactive substances, known as 'legal highs' and 'designer drugs', are a growing threat to public health, as seen by increased emergency room admissions and calls to poison centres, the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says in its Annual Report for 2012, which was launched today in London, England.

Easily available over the Internet, the new psychoactive substances number in their "hundreds" and are "growing steadily", says the INCB, which called for concerted action by States to prevent their manufacture, trafficking and abuse.

"Clear action must be taken now by governments to prevent and deal with the abuse of so-called 'legal highs' --- they are a threat to public health and pose a significant challenge to public health systems," said Dr. Viroj Sumayi, INCB Board Member, at a pre-launch event in Bangkok at the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) of Thailand.

The abuse of prescription drugs has spread in all regions of the world and increased substantially in recent years, representing a serious health and social challenge, according to the INCB Report., which also warned that "the abuse of prescription drugs by injection, increasing the risk of HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C infection, is apparent in many countries, particularly in South Asia."

Drawing attention to the shared responsibility of the international community to address drug control, Dr. Sumyai said: "The drug problem is a global problem that necessitates a global solution. We all have a shared responsibility to address it."

Also launched today was the INCB annual report, Precursors and Chemicals Used in the Illicit Manufacture of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 2012. The report describes how chemical trafficking organizations are circumventing international precursor controls by using new or specially designed non-scheduled substances, or by moving illicit manufacturing operations to regions with weaker controls. Well-functioning controls are therefore essential to monitor trade and prevent the diversion of precursor chemicals.

Over 70 representatives from Thai government and law enforcement agencies, the international diplomatic corps, UN agencies and local and international media attended the ONCB event. They were welcomed by Mr. Ranong Ratananukul, Senior Narcotics Control Advisor for the Secretary General of the ONCB, who noted the important role INCB played in Thailand's efforts to curb illicit drugs use and trafficking.

"Thailand agrees with INCB that drug control is a shared international responsibility. The INCB Annual Report is extremely useful for our Government," said Mr. Ratananukul. "We use this information at ONCB for planning our illicit drugs response."

The Report findings were first presented by Dr. Sumyai of Thailand, who was then joined by Mr. Leik Boonwaat, UNODC Regional Representative a.i. Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Mr. Boonwaat noted that the illicit manufacture and use of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), especially methamphetamine, continue to be a major concern in East and Southeast Asia, which accounted for nearly half of global seizures of methamphetamine in 2010, and saw further increases reported throughout the region in 2011. Southeast Asia also has the second largest total area of illicit opium poppy cultivation in the world, representing one-fifth of the global total, with Increased illicit cultivation of opium poppy reported since 2007 in the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Myanmar.

Although strengthened control in Australia and New Zealand of precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of amphetamine-type stimulants has resulted in more seizures of methamphetamine, Mr. Boonwaat said there remains a lack of information on the drug trafficking situation, particularly among the Pacific Island states, where there are indications that methamphetamine is available and that levels of abuse among young people are considerable, even in remote areas.

"Knowing is the first step in responding," said Mr. Boonwaat. "To formulate a strategic response to the ATS problem we need knowledge; a framework of laws; the technical capacity to respond; and regional cooperation among law enforcement. Law enforcement and public health officials must form a network to effectually respond to the network of transnational organized criminals operating in our region."

INCB is an independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body for the implementation of the United Nations international drug control conventions. Based on INCB activities, the INCB annual report provides a comprehensive survey of the drug control situation in the world. As an impartial body, INCB tries to identify and predict dangerous trends and suggests necessary measures to be taken.