European Union Bans New Wave of Research Chemicals
The European Commission has banned four noval psychoactive substances (NPS) usually referred to as research chemicals: Methoxetamine, AH 7921, 25I-NBOMe and MDPV.
This decision has come after an investigation by Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA) found that these substances had ‘no established medical or other known legitimate purpose and are being sold as alternatives to illicit drugs.’ European Commission – MEX/14/0925 25/09/2014
Martine Reicherts, the EU’s Justice Commissioner said:
“This ban is a concrete step towards protecting our citizens. These drugs are like wolves in sheep’s clothing. The ban voted on today will give them the criminal status they deserve. Legal highs are not legal: they are lethal!” European Commission – MEX/14/0925 25/09/2014
Research chemicals are chemical compounds that have a structural similarity to a particular drug and are regarded as an analogue to that drug.
Methoxetamine is a dissociative relating to the Ketamine, AH 7921 is an opiate analgesic that stems from Morphine, 25I-NBOMe is a psychedelic that relates to the 2C-x series, which in itself relates to mescaline, and MDPV comes from Prolintane, which is a stimulant.
Professor Harry Sumnall from the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University (UK), raises concerns that banning a substance doesn’t address the issues surrounding substance abuse:
“Drug markets and user behaviours are complex, and bans do nothing to address the wider issue of continuing demand for NPS.”
Prof. Sumnall continues:
“There are also a number of unintended secondary harms associated with bans: movement of a product into the criminal market and all that represents; development of more problematic behaviours such as injection; and the emergence of NPS that are potentially more harmful than those that are banned.”
All member states have a year to incorporate this EU ban into their own domestic laws though many countries already have such controls in place after receiving guidance from their own advisory councils.
In the UK, as part of an attempt to respond to the number of new research chemicals released, the Government can issue a rapid control of a substance under Temporary Class Drug Orders while the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) investigates them.
In June this year the ACMD recommended that AH 7921 among other substances should be controlled under the Misuse of Drug Act 1971 as a class A substance. (ACMD)
Research chemicals have slipped through legal loopholes by being an analogue of a banned chemical. They are then wrapped and a: ‘for research purposes only’ and ‘not for human consumption’ stickers are stuck on them.
In response to this method of legal bypassing the ACMD suggested in June 2014 that the definitions for groups of chemicals in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 such as tryptamines, be widened so greater swathes of chemicals fit into them.
Professor Les Iversen, Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, said:
“The UK is leading the way by using generic definitions to ban groups of similar compounds to ensure we keep pace with the fast moving marketplace for these drugs.” (ACMD)
While the UK is leading the way in grouping together different drugs for classification, the problem of substance abuse remains unsolved, Prof. Sumnall comments on the uncertain effects of previous bans:
“From a UK perspective, mephedrone is a good example. Since control as a Class B drug in 2010, prevalence has decreased dramatically, but deaths have increased, and there is emerging evidence that use has become embedded in some user groups, including drug injectors in some parts of the UK.”