A sharp rise in the variety of legal designer drugs with names that entice young people into thinking they pose no risk is alarming from a public health standpoint, the United Nations drugs agency said.
The number of new psychoactive substances - marketed as designer drugs and legal highs - as reported by member states jumped by more than 50 percent in less than three years to 251 by mid-2012, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said.
This is an alarming drug problem - but the drugs are legal, it said. ”Sold openly, including via the Internet, NPS (new psychoactive substances), which have not been tested for safety, can be far more dangerous than traditional drugs.
Names including spice meow-meow and bath salts mislead young people into believing they are indulging in low-risk fun, UNODC said.
But the adverse effects and addictive potential of most of these uncontrolled substances are at best poorly understood, the agency said in an annual survey.
Use of such substances among youth in the United States appears to be more than twice as widespread as in the 27-nation European Union, where the United Kingdom, Poland and France have the most users, it said.
New psychoactive substances can be made by slightly modifying the molecular structure of controlled drugs, making a new drug with similar effects which can elude national and international bans.
They are proliferating at an unprecedented rate and posing unforeseen public health challenges, said the report that examines production, trafficking and consumption trends.
The international drug control system is floundering, for the first time, under the speed and creativity of the phenomenon of this type of substances, the UNODC report said.
Overall, global drug consumption has remained stable, the report said, referring to the number of drug users with dependence or drug-use disorders. In 2011, the number of drug-related deaths was estimated at 211,000.
While the use of traditional drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, seems to be declining in some parts of the world, prescription drug abuse and new psychoactive substance abuse is growing, it said.