New PsychoactIve Substances - Evidence Review

This paper summarises the key information currently available on New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) and evidence gaps. Data on Scotland is presented in the context of UK and international evidence.

4 Supply

Key Findings

  • In Scotland, there were 213 seizures of NPS (mephedrone and ketamine) by police forces in 2012/13. This was around 1% of the overall number of Class B and C drug seizures in Scotland.
  • NPS have been seized in most countries across the world, but there are regional variations in the types of drugs seized.
  • Most NPS originate from Asia (especially China and India), followed by Europe, the Americas, Africa and Oceania.
  • The internet plays an important role in the supply of NPS, with 651 internet shops identified in Europe at the last count (EMCDDA, 2014).

Geographical spread

4.1 In Scotland, there were 213 seizures of NPS (mephedrone and ketamine) by police forces in 2012/13[8]. This was around 1% of the overall number of Class B and C drug seizures in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2014).

4.2 NPS is becoming a global phenomenon. By 2013, NPS had emerged in every region of the world - reported by a total of 94 countries worldwide (UNODC, 2014a). Of those reported to UNODC between 2008 and 2013, 28% were synthetic cannabinoids, 25% synthetic cathinones, and 17% phenethylamines. Seizures of synthetic cannabinoids have spread over recent years: from three countries in 2009 (Finland, France and Germany) to 16 by 2011. For synthetic cathinones, (mephedrone being the most widely seized) only 2 countries (Finland, Netherlands) reported seizures of over 1kg in 2009, rising to 14 in 2011. Ketamine seizures were already widespread in 2009 (16 countries) and have remained so, with the biggest seizures being in Asia followed by Canada. Phenethylamines seizures are most common in Europe - seized in 9 different European countries, as well as New Zealand, from 2009-2012. Piperazines emerged in almost all regions before 2008 - seizures over the last few years have been fairly constant, and mostly in Europe. Plant-based substances (mainly Khat, kratom and salvia) have been seized in most regions and by most countries. The most significant seizures have been reported by Italy for the last four years, followed by New Zealand. Overall, trends for the 7 NPS groups fluctuate - whilst seizures of ketamine, phenethylamines and piperazines have been fairly stable in recent years, experts predict rising trends for synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones and plant-based substances (UNODC, 2013a).

Origins of NPS and supply routes

4.3 The primary region from where NPS originate is Asia (especially China and India), followed by Europe (including Czech Republic, Hungary, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Ukraine, UK), the Americas, Africa and Oceania (UNODC, 2013a). The most common mode of trafficking is thought to be by air, followed by mail. The internet was named as a major source of NPS from all regions, having the following advantages for suppliers: access to a vast number of potential users; no need for up-front investment; anonymity; potential to bypass the laws of different countries; and enabling NPS to stay 'under the radar' for longer. It also serves as a source of information e.g. by drugs users to find out about new products, experiences and suppliers through forums, chat rooms and blogs; and by health and law enforcement authorities to expand their knowledge on the subject, e.g. manufacturing processes.

4.4 The most recent EMCDDA snapshot of internet activity on NPS (EMCDDA, 2014) found that the number of online shops offering NPS for sale in the EU has fallen slightly, but is still high, with 651 shops identified in January 2013 (compared with 693, 314 and 170 in January 2012, 2011, 2010). Three natural products - kratom, salvia and magic mushrooms - are the most common 'legal highs' sold online in Europe, followed by a variety of synthetic drugs, mainly cathinones (EMCDDA, 2012).

4.5 The most recent Global Drugs Survey (Winstock, 2014) found that over half 58.2% of UK respondents had heard of the online drugs marketplace Silk Road, and 43.8% of these reported having accessed the site. Of those that had heard of Silk Road, 11.4% had taken drugs they'd bought themselves via the site and 14.6% said they had consumed drugs purchased on their behalf. The most common drug UK respondents purchased on Silk Road was cannabis (including synthetic forms), followed by MDMA. LSD, Ketamine and 2C-B were also popular choices (Winstock, 2014).


Email: Fiona Fraser

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