Synthetic Drugs

Prohibitionists Say the Drugs They Banned Are Safer Than the Ones They Didn't



In a report issued today, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) sounds the alarm about synthetic, quasi-legal drugs such as "spice," "bath salts," and "meow-meow," saying "the international drug control system is floundering" due to "the speed and creativity" of underground chemists:

The number of NPS [new psychoactive substances] reported by Member States to UNODC rose from 166 at the end of 2009 to 251 by mid-2012, an increase of more than 50 per cent. For the first time, the number of NPS actually exceeded the total number of substances under international control (234).

Control is something of a misnomer in this context, since illegal drugs are anything but controlled. Yet the same is true of uncontrolled substances when they are ostensibly not intended for human consumption, the dodge that sellers of psychoactive "incense" and "bath salts" use to stay within the law. "This is an alarming drug problem," says the UNODC, "but the drugs are legal." Reuters explains that "new psychoactive substances can be made by slightly modifying the molecular structure of controlled drugs, making a new drug with similar effects which can elude national and international bans." The UNODC worries that "the adverse effects and addictive potential of most of these uncontrolled substances are at best poorly understood." It says the new drugs "can have deadly consequences for their users but are hard to control, with dynamic, fast mutating producers and 'product lines.'" It warns that they "have not been tested for safety" and "can be far more dangerous than traditional drugs." Those safer, "traditional" drugs would be the ones that governments have arbitrarily chosen to ban, thereby driving consumers to more hazardous substitutes. The UNODC likewise notes "concerns about the violence generated by illicit drug trafficking" without mentioning prohibition's role in making otherwise pacific markets violent. Talk about floundering.

[Thanks to Max Minkoff for the tip.]