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Designer drugs are growing at an unsurpassed rate and are now easily available over the internet like never before, a UN-affiliated report warned on Tuesday.

"In recent years, there has been an unprecedented surge in the abuse of new psychoactive substances," often called "legal highs" or "designer drugs," Raymond Yans, president of the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), said at the annual report launch in London.

In Europe alone, the number of websites selling illicit drugs has more than quadrupled in two years, surging from 170 in January 2010 to 690 sites in January 2012. The report added that almost one new substance is appearing every week in the continent. Previously, between 2000 and 2005 there were an average of five notifications of new substances per year.

 

Another serious health and social threat is the surge in prescription drug misuse, including medication to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and mental illnesses. Of note was prescription drug abuse by injection, particularly in south Asia. "More than six percent of secondary school students have already abused tranquillizers in some countries," the INCB found.

The report also condemned the wide availability of drugs and poor prescription practices in North America.

The INCB will submit its recommendations to the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, where world governments will meet in two weeks’ time to agree on global measures for drug control.

Q&A with Raymond Yans, President of the International Narcotics Control Board

Q: Why is there a rise in designer drugs?

A: It's the global trend of fast pleasure. The flash is much bigger when you mix the synthetic drug with alcohol, etc. This is in the main peer-influenced. I don't think it is such a social influence. They are looking for an additive from the outside and not from the inside. It is a loss of spirituality.

Q: What measures would you put in place to abate this type of loss?

A: Parents, family, taking care of your children, not letting them spend hours in front of the TV. Just common sense and education. Have dialogue with youngsters. Every type of advice when we are starting primary prevention schemes. These are the same measures to prevent alcoholism among the youth.

Q: Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina and Colombia leader Juan Manuel Santos have called for the global legislation of marijuana because the war on drug hasn't worked. From what we can see, your board doesn't support the decriminalization and legislation of drugs...

A: What you read in the press is very different to what these politicians say. The Guatemalan foreign minister had a meeting at the UN General Assembly and I read his speech, saying that we should return to the original precepts of the UN conventions on drugs, that we should not freely consume them, but isolate ourselves from those that traffick.

Q: Do you think there is some social reason behind prescription drug abuse in Western countries?

A: Medicinal culture in Japan, for example, is so different to our Western culture. In our culture, medicine is more and more symptomatic – you try to cure the symptom, and pain is the symptom. On the other hand, in ancient Asian medicine, medicine tries to find the origin – the pain is not treated directly. Statistically the use of painkillers in Eastern Asia is much lower – even in developed countries like South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan – than in Western countries, not only the case in the United States.

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