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Legal classification and international systems for monitoring and responding to novel psychoactive substances

Authors: Michael Evans-Brown, Brendan Hughes, Roumen Sedefov

Type: Book chapter

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In: Novel psychoactive substances. Classification, pharmacology and toxicology

Abstract

Novel psychoactive substances make up a broad range of drugs that are not controlled by the United Nations international drug laws. They include synthetic cannabinoids, stimulants, benzodiazepines, opioids, hallucinogens, and dissociatives. Many of these substances are intended to mimic the effects of controlled drugs and are traded as ‘legal’ replacements for them.

While the emergence of novel psychoactive substances is not a new phenomenon, driven by globalisation there has been a large increase in the availability, and, subsequently, harms caused by these substances since around 2008. At least until relatively recently, as the list of substances controlled at national level were largely based on those substances controlled under the international drug control system, few novel psychoactive substances were subject to control measures in many countries. However, in response to the growth in the market, increasingly some novel substances have been controlled or otherwise regulated at national level, irrespective of whether or not they are controlled internationally. Invariably, despite this, novel substances continue to appear on the drug market, albeit at a slower pace.

This chapter: examines the legal classification of novel psychoactive substances; provides an overview of some of the early warning systems for monitoring and responding to these substances; discusses the current situation in Europe; and highlights the possible future of these substances and how our responses made need to adapt to ever-changing globalized drug markets. This includes a discussion of the work of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) as part of a unique regional three-step legal framework of early warning, risk assessment, and control measures that allows the European Union to rapidly detect, assess, and respond to public health and social threats caused by these substances.