Although illicit drugs’ misuse in Europe has recently stabilised, significant changes recently occurred in the EU drugs market which the new EU Drugs Strategy (2013-20) will be targeting, including the continuing high prevalence of drug-related deaths, also associated with NPS.
The possibility to easily/anonymously access these substances via Internet is increasing their availability to a wide range of potential consumers. According to EMCDDA, the estimated number of online shops offering new psychoactive substances for sale to consumers in the EU continues to grow, with 693 shops identified in January 2012, up from 314 in January 2011 and 170 in January 2010. Furthermore, the number of last-year users can be estimated to be around 2.2 million in the EU, and there is a potential for a further rapid rise of use among certain categories, particularly young people (Eurobarometer).
From the clinical standpoint, numerous studies have analysed/are analysing NPS, with reference for example to numbers, composition, effects in terms of health, toxicity and mortality risks… However, little is still known about:
• production, distribution and consumption patterns;
• supply chain and role of the Internet;
• nature of related crime and characteristics of most relevant criminal patterns;
• role of organized criminal groups;
• opportunities for Internet increasing role determined also by the divergent national approaches to NPS, which can results also in displacement of harmful substances between Member States and disruption of legitimate trade, and the ineffectiveness of the current EU instrument on NPS.
It follows that policy making, health/legal approaches, law enforcement activities and (crime) prevention initiatives, information exchange and cooperation among national authorities and EU institutions/agencies are hindered by this situation of uncertainty. Forensic analysis, risk assessment and mitigation/intervention strategies are still at an early stage.