New drugs pose serious health risks says UN

The proliferation of new narcotics developed to circumvent existing drug laws poses a serious health problem, the United Nations drugs control body said on Tuesday.

New drugs pose serious health risks says UN
Poppy survey in Myanmar. Photo: UNODC

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) tasked by the United Nations to oversee the existing legal vacuum with regards to the new drugs makes it easy to market these substances, often over the Internet.

"They can be natural materials or synthetic substances, often deliberately chemically engineered to circumvent existing international and domestic drug control measures," the INCB said in its latest report.

The problem is particularly serious in the United States where the phenomenon started around 10 years ago, and is quickly spreading to the rest of the world.

The number of new substances has doubled since 2009 with 388 new ones added to the list in October last year, the UN body said.

China is "one of the main sources of supply of new psychoactive substances", said the report.

The INCB also criticised the legalisation of cannabis in certain US states and in Uruguay, saying it went against international drug laws.

Increased levels of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, is of particular concern, the INCB report said.

There has been a 37 percent increase in the potency of THC in the drugs seized in the United States for example and a 75 percent increase in cannabis coming from outside the country.

Increased opium production

The INCB is also worried about increased opium production given the revival of poppy cultivation in Myanmar and a 17 percent jump in opium output levels in Afghanistan over the period of a year.

The increase in Afghanistan's production has a considerable impact on the world market, and particularly on China and neighbouring Iran, with the country being the source of "80 percent of the world's illicit opium," the report said.

Increased illicit opium production in Afghanistan is directly related to a deterioration in security conditions in the country, said the INCB.

With only three percent of the crop seized, the risk is low for Afghan traffickers with the activity generating $ 2.2 billion (1.9 billion euros) in profits a year, the report said.

Persistent poverty in the Shan state of Myanmar has led to the increase in poppy cultivation in the country, the INCB believes.

The output has grown from 21,600 hectares (53,000 acres) in 2006 to 57,800 hectares in 2013, and has increased by over 14 percent in one year.

The organisation however welcomed the decrease in South American cocaine which it says has had a "perceptible impact on major consumer markets".

In North America, and to a lesser extent in Europe, the supply in 2014 remained well below 2006's record levels, the report said.

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Drug raid on Nigerian gang sees 50 arrests

Police in Vienna have arrested 50 people in connection with a Nigerian drug ring which operated in the Austrian capital.

Drug raid on Nigerian gang sees 50 arrests
File photo: Paul Gillingwater

Investigators said they had been on the trail of the gang for the past three years, and that in that time it has netted a profit of over €6 million. 

21 kilos of illegal drugs, mainly cocaine and heroin, were seized during raids on Thursday. However, police told a press conference on Friday that the gang would probably cut the drugs with other substances to increase the amount that could be sold on the street to around 100 kilos.

The drugs were mainly sold in Vienna by Nigerian dealers. Detective Georg Rabensteiner said that 100 kilos of drugs would “cover” demand in Vienna for a few months. 

Photo: LPD Wien

Police first became aware of the gang's existence at the end of 2012, when a Nigerian man was caught smuggling €250,000 in cash hidden within cars which were brought from Vienna to Nigeria. An investigation revealed that the money came from drug trafficking. Gang members regularly sent over large amounts of drugs to Austria via ten people who acted as drug mules. 

The couriers would swallow between one and one and a half kilograms of drugs, which were then sold in Vienna. Police said that the cocaine and heroin which was seized was 80 percent pure.