2013 UN Drug Report Highlights Rise in New, Unregulated Drugs

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Consumption of “new psychoactive substances” is on the rise worldwide including in Latin America, while consumption of traditional drugs appears to have stabilized, according to the newly released United Nations drug report.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2013 World Drug Report details a rise in new psychoactive substances (NPS), which are not under international control due to their medical use or because they are new compounds which legislation has not yet caught up with.

The number of reported NPS is growing and has for the first time surpassed the total number of substances under international control. UN Member States reported the existence of 166 such substances in 2009 compared to 251 midway through 2012. The report also noted a steep rise in seizures of “designer drugs” such as ecstasy.

Examples of NPS include bath salts, ketamine (used for anesthesia), piperazine (a medicine for treating parasitic worms), and synthetic cannabinoids, which provide a high similar to that of marijuana. Brazil and Argentina were the two South American countries most affected by ketamine use, while salvia, a hallucinogenic plant, was also found to be popular in a host of Latin American countries.

In contrast, consumption of traditional drugs such as heroin and cocaine were reported to have stabilized, and even declined, in some parts of the world — particularly the United States — though new markets for cocaine have emerged and the drug’s use has increased in Brazil, Costa Rica and Peru.

InSight Crime Analysis

Similar global trends in the emergence of new synthetic drugs were noted in both the 2011 and 2012 reports, though the reach and number of these drugs appears to be increasing. As previously noted by InSight Crime, these drugs provide traffickers new ways to skirt legal retrictions and their increasing popularity shows the adaptability of the international drug market in the face of tightened controls on illegal substances. 

The arrest of a small-time ketamine supplier in Peru in March was one indicator of the infiltration of this drug into the South American market. The use of manufactured stimulants as a whole is also increasing in South America — in Colombia, the dual stimulant and hallucinogenic 2CB has reportedly become popular in Bogota nightclubs, while thousands of synthetic drug capsules were seized in Lima in January. 

Many of these drugs can be obtained over the Internet, making them difficult to track and providing new advantages and markets to drug traffickers.

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