The European Drug Report warns of “Legal Highs“ – the German Government acts

On 31 Mai 2016, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) in Lisbon unveiled the European Drug Report 2016: Trends and Developments. One of its focal points is the threat posed by internet drug markets and the continuous emergence of new psychoactive substances. The EMCDDA also voiced its concern over the increase in drug deaths in some countries. Says the competent European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos: "New psychoactive substances, stimulants, heroin and other opioids continue to be in high demand and supply, with major impacts on public health. That is why the 2016 European Drug Report is an important addition to our evidence base on the drugs problem and a helpful tool for European policymakers to shape policies and actions to address it.
"Indeed, the number, type and availability of new psychoactive substances (NPS) on the European market continue to increase. As of this writing, the EMCDDA are monitoring more than 560 NPS.
In 2015, 98 substances were reported (compared to 101 in 2014). Synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones top the list of reported NPS (24 and 26, respectively). Between them, these two groups accounted for almost 80% of the 50 000 NPS seizures in 2014 and more than 60% of the four tonnes seized. The report commented this scenario as follows: "Young consumers may unwittingly be acting as human guinea pigs for substances for which the potential health risks are largely unknown."

Germany responded swiftly. Last year, already, the Federal Ministry of Health had drafted a Bill to control the distribution of NPS. On 4 May 2016, the draft NPS Bill was adopted by the Federal Cabinet. On 2 June, the German Bundestag conducted the first reading of this new piece of legislation. Finally, on 22 September, the Bundestag adopted the “Act to control the distribution of new psychoactive substances” ("Gesetz zur Bekämpfung der Verbreitung neuer psychoaktiver Stoffe" - Neue-psychoaktive-Stoffe-Gesetz – NpSG), also known as “Legal Highs”. The Act will become effective on the day after its official publication.

Every drug is high-risk. This is particularly true for the myriad legal highs cooked up in foreign drug kitchens that are flooding the German market. Advertised as “herbal blends“ or “bath salts“, they mislead the users into believing they harmless, while, in reality, they are not. Quite the opposite. In Germany alone, 39 persons died last year after using NPS. Now, this Act puts an end to this gambling with death. Working in top gear, we translated this highly complex legal matter into legislative form pretty much overnight. By banning entire substance groups, we effectively protect human health.

Marlene Mortler, Drug Commissioner of the Federal Government

Synthetic cannabinoids that are sold as "legal" replacements for cannabis can be extremely toxic. The European Report gives a detailed account of incidents and fatalities caused by them. In February 2016, for instance, the EMCDDA put out a warning over the synthetic cannabinoid MDMB-CHMICA that had been associated in Europe with 13 deaths and 23 non-fatal poisonings since 2014. The synthetic cathinone alpha-PVP has been implicated since 2011 in almost 200 acute intoxications and more than 100 fatalities.