Drug markets all over the world are constantly causing new challenges for governments. One of the biggest issues today is rapidly growing variations of new psychoactive substances (NPS) and improved methods to traffic them.
This conclusion comes as one of the NarcoMap project outcomes (www.narcomap.eu). The project aimed a comprehensive research in 12 European countries, gathering and analysing detailed information about the drug trafficking routes, types and usage habits. In the final conference of the project, which was held in Vilnius this week, NPS problem was highly underlined.
NPS pose a serious risk to public health (due to their harmful effects), because they are substances that are more readily available to a wide range of people, compared to traditional drugs. For example, only in Ireland, since 2005, NPS have become available in more than 100 stores in a very short period of time (the so-called head shops or smart shops) across the country. Suffice it to say that in the last five years, two new NPS appeared in the European drug market during only one week.
There is very little information available on the effects, usage, or dosage of NPS. Harmful effects to human health may not only be caused by the harmfulness of NPS themselves, but also by wrong dosages, mixing or usage by drug users. More and more deadly cases appear as a result of this.
The other issue is the evolutionary ways of NPS trafficking. Parcels containing these drugs are packaged in such a way that customs and police officers, and sometimes the users themselves, find it very difficult to detect the drugs upon receiving them.
According to a study, the most common way to obtain NPS in Europe is to purchase them via the Internet (60.4%), from friends (17.8%), from dealers (9.5%), through smart shops (5.1%), receiving a free sample (2.7%). Most of it is simply shipped by mail.
Experience from European countries shows that several reasons contribute to the growth of NPS sales via the Internet: availability, risk reduction (no direct contact with dealers), dealers have unlimited opportunities to advertise NPS and they also have no spatial or time constraints as the dealers in the traditional drug market do.
Experts say, that in order to fight this drug trafficking more effectively, it is very important to have a tool to collect and exchange all the data about drug markets in every EU country.
The fight against the NPS is only possible through the cooperation of all key stakeholders with an interdisciplinary approach. Cooperation: (1) prevents overlapping of data and research activities, (2) performs data checking, and (3) enables data updates. The efficiency of cooperation would significantly contribute to the creation of a single database that would be used by all stakeholders.
It is also necessary that those dealing with the suppression of the drugs be educated on NPS, how harmful they are, the NPS types and effects, etc. Education is not only important for the success in handling cases by police officers, postal service officers, prosecutors and judges, but also for the protection of police officers who come into physical contact with NPS while depriving the perpetrators of their freedom in illegal laboratories.
To help create a better mechanism to fight drug trafficking is one the major aims of the NarcoMap project. The outcomes of the project lead not only to better understanding of illegal drug trafficking mechanisms in Europe, but it will also help to empower all responsible institutions to fight this problem more effectively.
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