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Moore, Joan (2012) Drugs in focus – policy briefing. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 40, Winter 2011, p. 33.

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Responding to new psychoactive substances

Cited from Drugs in focus, No. 22, 2nd issue 2011
Key issues at a glance
1. New psychoactive substances are not easily detected and identified by forensic laboratories. This may hinder targeted and timely responses by legislators and law enforcement.
2. It is not legally possible to criminalise the unauthorised distribution of all psychoactive substances, so legislation, rather than being proactive, can only react to substances as they appear.
3. New psychoactive substances may pose risks to individual and public health as well as social risks, affecting the broader community. However, when they first appear on the market, information on their associated risks is lacking.
4. The legislative procedure required to bring a substance under the control of the drug laws takes time, in some countries more than a year.
5. Controlling a new psychoactive substance might have unintended and unwanted consequences. It may stimulate the search for, and distribution of, a non-controlled replacement, possibly one more harmful than its predecessor.
6. Other control options, though faster, lack the penalties to send the same messages of deterrence and health risk. Furthermore, they might not be effective in preventing or stopping the marketing and distribution of a new substance.
Conclusions and policy considerations
1. Detecting and identifying new psychoactive substances as they appear on the market are the first steps to assessing the risks of, and ultimately controlling, potentially dangerous new drugs. The capacity to achieve this task is an essential element of early-warning systems.
2. Risk assessment systems can provide evidence to support the legislative process. Targeted research is key to providing a firm evidence base for risk assessment and for ongoing justification of control measures.
3. Striking the right balance between swiftness of response to new substances, on the one hand, and sufficient scientific evidence and legislative supervision, on the other, is an important policy goal.
4. Drug laws should address substances that pose serious health and social threats. Other measures, combined with prevention programmes, may also be used to dissuade the use of non-controlled substances that are not necessarily safe.
5. It is important to consider if other laws already available, such as consumer protection and medicines laws, might achieve the desired objective. Speed of reaction may be more important than severity. Import bans can reduce pressure on local enforcement mechanisms.
6. The European Commission, in co-operation with EU countries, the EMCDDA and Europol, is working on new legislation to better address the control of new psychoactive substances throughout the EU.
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 40, Winter 2011
January 2012
Page Range
p. 33
Health Research Board
Issue 40, Winter 2011
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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