Latest news on synthetic drugs

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October 2020 – UNODC-SMART: A new generation of synthetic opioids adds complexity to the opioid crisis – Global SMART Update

VIENNA, Austria – October 2020:  The new Global SMART Update Volume 24 - “The growing complexity of the opioid crisis” provides insight into the complex global opioid crisis, which has recently seen an emergence of a new generation of new psychoactive substances with opioid effects. Despite the central commonality of opioids, the crisis is multi-faceted in nature and its characteristics diverge sharply in different geographical regions.

 

More recently, there seems to be a shift in the synthetic opioid market towards newer and more varied chemical classes of substances. The displacement/replacement effect is a by-product of a complex cyclic interaction between the imposition and circumvention of novel control measures amid changing market dynamics. The international community has taken major steps towards developing a set of balanced international and domestic responses to address various aspects of the evolving opioid crisis. The emergence of these substances highlights the importance of strengthening early warning systems, expanding public-private partnerships and enhancing existing legal approaches to respond to the growing complexity of the crisis. 

The Global SMART Updates are a biannual publication of the Global Synthetics Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends (SMART) programme, implemented by the UNODC Laboratory and Scientific Section. The Global SMART Update Volume 24 was published in the framework of the UNODC Opioid Strategy.



 

For more information, please see: 

Global SMART update 23 - An expanding synthetic drug – Implications for precursor control

Global SMART update 21 – Understanding the global opioid crisis

Global SMART update 17 – Fentanyl and its analogues - 50 years on

UNODC, Opioid Strategy Website - Response to the Opioid Crisis

United Nations, Toolkit on Synthetic Drugs

 

September 2020 – UNODC Opioid Strategy launched the UN Toolkit on Synthetic Drugs website

UNODC – September 2020: On the 28th of September 2020, the UNODC Opioid Strategy launched the UN Toolkit on Synthetic Drugs website, a tool that supports the international community to implement comprehensive responses to counter the synthetic drugs problem. The Toolkit provides a wide range of guidance and resources from a variety of specialised agencies across the UN system.

Currently, there are six modules that are available (Legal, Forensics, Access and Diversion Prevention, Postal Security, Precursors, and COVID-response). The Legal module, for example, covers different legislative approaches to synthetic drug control and highlights the key considerations of the approaches and how they may apply in various national contexts. The Forensics module provides practical tools such as technical manuals to strengthen the forensic capacity of drug testing and toxicology laboratories. Two more (Early Warning Systems and Health Responses – Prevention and Treatment) will be available, soon.

For more information, please see: 

UN Toolkit on Synthetic Drugs website

September 2020 – Indonesia: seven synthetic cannabinoids added to the list of controlled narcotics

Indonesia September 2020: The list of controlled substances in Indonesia is included in Law No 35 of 2009. In March 2014,the Minister of Health Regulation No. 13 of 2014, had already amended the list of narcotics, by adding 18 NPS. These included inter alia phenethylamines (5-APB, 6-APB, 25B-NBOMe, 25C-NBOMe, 25I-NBOMe, PMMA), synthetic cannabinoids (JWH-018,XLR-11), synthetic cathinones (MDPV, mephedrone, methylone, MPHP, pentedrone). More recently, in 2020, the Minister of Health Regulation No. 5 of 2020, further updated the list of narcotics with 7 additional NPS. The newly added substances, MDMB-FUBINACA, AMB-FUBICA, 4F-MDMB-BINACA, 5F-MN-24, 5F-EMB-PINACA, 5F-EDMB-PINACA and 5F-MMB-PICA, are all synthetic cannabinoids.

 

Table 1: Substance list and international control status

Index  

Substance name as listed in the national (Indonesian) legal document

Substance name in the UNODC Early Warning Advisory (EWA) 

International control status

175

MDMB-FUBINACA, nama lain FUB-MDMB

MDMB-FUBINACA

Not controlled

176

MMB-FUBICA, AMB-FUBICA

AMB-FUBICA (MMB-FUBICA)

Not controlled

177

4-Fluoro MDMB-BlNACA, nama lain 4-lluoro MDMB-BUTJNACA

4F-MDMB-BINACA (4F-MDMB-BUTINACA, MDMB(N)-073-F)

Decision to place under international control in March 2020 (1971 Convention; Schedule II)

178

5-FLUORO NNEI, nama lain 5F-MN-24

5F-MN-24 (5F-NNE1, CBM-2201)

Not controlled

179

5F-EMB-PINACA, nama lain 5F-AEB

5F-EMB-PINACA

Not controlled

180

5F-EDMB-PINACA, nama lain 5-fluoro EDMB-PlNACA

5F-EDMB-PINACA

Not controlled

181

MMB-2201, nama lain 1-AMB, 5F-AMB-PICA, 5F-MMB-PlCA

5F-MMB-PICA (I-AMB, MMB-2201, MDMB-2201)

Not controlled




For more information, please see:

Indonesia Minister of Health Regulation No. 5 of 2020

GLOBAL SMART UPDATE 13:  Special Segment Synthetic cannabinoids: Key facts about the largest and most dynamic group of NPS 

GLOBAL SMART UPDATE 14: Special Segment Legal responses to NPS: Multiple approaches to a multi-faceted problem

September 2020 – China/Afghanistan: Use of ephedra plants for methamphetamine manufacture

Shaanxi, China - September 2020: Chinese authorities recently announced the seizure of a clandestine laboratory used for extracting ephedrine from ephedra plant material. Ephedra plants are a natural source of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, and grow in several parts of the world, including Asia.

In May 2020, Chinese authorities raided the clandestine ephedrine extraction laboratory in Shaanxi Province, located in the northwest part of China, and reported the seizure of 7 tons of ephedra plants, 9 tons of ephedrine solution, 1.4 tons of dimethylbenzene (xylene), 800 kg sodium hydroxide and 100 kg oxalic acid. Further investigation revealed that the ephedra plant material was sourced from Inner Mongolia, China, and that the extracted ephedrine was destined for methamphetamine manufacture in clandestine facilities outside of China.

Reports from Afghanistan suggest that (pseudo)ephedrine is extracted from ephedra plant material and used as a precursor for methamphetamine, too. While clandestine methamphetamine manufacture in Asia is largely based on synthetic precursors, ephedra plant material should not be ruled out as a potential source of precursors for clandestine methamphetamine manufacture in countries where such material is available.


Source: CCTV 2

 

For more information, please see:

NNCC WeChat platform (Chinese).

David Mansfield and Alexander Soderholm, “Long read: the unknown unknowns of Afghanistan’s new wave of methamphetamine production”, London School of Economics, United States Centre, 30 September 2019.

Synthetic Drugs in East and Southeast Asia - Latest developments and challenges.

 

August 2020 - UNODC EWA: Brorphine, a newly emerging synthetic opioid detected in post-mortem cases

UNODC – August 2020: Brorphine (1-(1-(1-(4-bromophenyl)ethyl)piperidin-4-yl)-1,3-dihydro-2H-benzo[d]imidazol-2-one) is a recently emerging, highly potent synthetic opioid that has been seen in an increasing number of detections in seized drug samples and forensic casework since 2019, especially after isotonitazene was temporarily scheduled by the US Drug Enforcement Agency in June 2020.[1] Brorphine was first reported to the UNODC Early Warning Advisory on NPS in 2019. It is not under international control.

While the substance has some structural similarities with fentanyl, brorphine falls outside of the typical scope of generic legislations for fentanyl analogues.[2] Compounds belonging to this opioid sub-class were first established by Janssen Pharmaceuticals to be central nervous system depressants with morphine-like, analgesic activity.[3] Recent in vitro studies on brorphine found that it acts as a full mu-opioid receptor agonist which would likely result in opioid-like pharmacological effects and has a potency greater than morphine.[4] Brorphine users have reported similar opioid-like effects including euphoria and dependence, and the substance has been actively discussed and compared to other synthetic opioids on online forums.[5]
The substance has appeared as a grey granular powder similar to isotonitazene, and has been detected in seized drug samples and toxicology cases in Canada, United States, Sweden and Belgium since 2019.[6] Recently, between June to July 2020, the substance has been detected in 7 post-mortem cases in the United States alongside fentanyl, flualprazolam and heroin.[7]More information on brorphine and other newly emerging synthetic opioids will be available in the upcoming Global SMART Update Vol. 24, September 2020.

Figure: Molecular structure of brorphine

Source: UNODC Early Warning Advisory


References:

[1] The Center for Forensic Science Research, The Rise of Brorphine — A Potent New Synthetic Opioid Identified in the Midwestern United States (July 2020).

[2] Nick Verougstraete and others, “First report on brorphine: the next opioid on the deadly new psychoactive substances’ horizon?”, Journal of Analytical Toxicology (2020), Accepted Manuscript, bkaa094.

[3] Paul Adriaan Jan Janssen, “Derivatives of Benzimidazolinyl Piperidine”, Janssen Pharmaceutica N.V., United States Patent 3,318,900 (May 1967).

[4] Nicole M. Kennedy and others, “Optimization of a Series of Mu Opioid Receptor (MOR) Agonists with High G Protein Signaling Bias”, Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, vol. 61 (2018), no. 19, pp. 8895-8907; Nick Verougstraete  and others, “First report on brorphine: the next opioid on the deadly new psychoactive substances’ horizon?”, Journal of Analytical Toxicology (2020), Accepted Manuscript, bkaa094.

[5] Nick Verougstraete  and others, “First report on brorphine: the next opioid on the deadly new psychoactive substances’ horizon?”, Journal of Analytical Toxicology (2020), Accepted Manuscript, bkaa094; United States, Drug Enforcement Administration, Diversion Control Division, Drug & Chemical Evaluation Section, Brorphine (chemical name:1-(1-(1-(4-bromophenyl)ethyl)piperidin-4-yl)-1,3-dihydro-2H-benzimidazol-2-one) (August 2020).

[6] UNODC, Early Warning Advisory on NPS, 2019 – 2020; The Center for Forensic Science Research, The Rise of Brorphine — A Potent New Synthetic Opioid Identified in the Midwestern United States (July 2020); European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, “EU Early Warning System Situation Report: Situation report 1 – June 2020”, EU-EWS-SITREP-2020-0001 (Lisbon, Portugal, June 2020).

[7] The Center for Forensic Science Research, The Rise of Brorphine — A Potent New Synthetic Opioid Identified in the Midwestern United States (July 2020).


For more information, please see:

June 2020 – UNODC-SMART: Emergence of the new synthetic opioid isotonitazene

UNODC, “Understanding the global opioid crisis”, Global SMART Update Vol. 21 (2019).

UNODC, “Fentanyl and its analogues – 50 years on”, Global SMART Update Vol. 17 (2017).

 

July 2020 – WHO: Eleven New Psychoactive Substances to be considered for international control by 43rd ECDD meeting

Geneva, Switzerland – July 2020: The World Health Organization (WHO) evaluates the dependence-producing properties and potential harm to health of psychoactive substances. Recommendations from the WHO regarding international control under the International Drug Control Conventions are made to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and are subject to a vote by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND).

Eleven new psychoactive substances (NPS) will be considered for review at the 43rd meeting of the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD), including three benzodiazepines, three dissociatives, two synthetic cannabinoids, one hallucinogen, one stimulant and one synthetic opioid. The ECDD meeting will be held in Geneva from 12-16 October 2020. Analysis and data from UNODC’s Early Warning Advisory on NPS (EWA) has been made available to WHO for the prioritization of NPS by its Expert Committee on Drug Dependence.

Benzodiazepines
Flubromazolam
Clonazolam
Diclazepam
Hallucinogens
5-Methoxy-N,N-diallyltryptamine (5-MeO-DALT)
Dissociatives
Diphenidine
2-MeO-diphenidine
3-Methoxyphencyclidine (3-Meo-PCP)
Stimulants
3F-Phenmetrazine (3-Fluorophenmetrazine, 3-FPM)
Synthetic Cannabinoids
MDMB-4en-PINACA
CUMYL-PeGACLONE
Synthetic Opioids
Isotonitazene

 
For more information, please see:
World Health Organization Departmental News
43rd ECDD List of Substances Under Review
Expert Committee on Drug Dependence
World Health Organization 42nd Expert Committee on Drug Dependence

 

July 2020 – UNODC-SMART: Launch of the Global SMART guidelines on “The role of drug analysis laboratories in Early Warning Systems”

VIENNA, Austria – July 2020: Under the conditions of a globalised drug market, there is an increasing risk that new and potentially harmful psychoactive substances may spread to more countries and regions. Early warning systems help to identify the emergence of such new drug threats and changes on the drug market. Drug analysis laboratories are key to a functioning EWS due to the specific expertise, information and data they can generate. On 2nd June 2020, the UNODC SMART Programme launched its first manual on “The role of drug analysis laboratories in Early Warning Systems”, providing drug analysis laboratories worldwide with practical information and examples on how to participate in early warning systems.

The importance of early warning was also recognized by the United Nations General Assembly, which stated that “Governments have recognized the importance of reinforcing national and international efforts and increasing global cooperation to respond to the challenges and threats of emerging drugs (…) by strengthening information exchange through early warning systems.” UNODC developed a global early warning system on NPS under the umbrella of its Global Synthetics Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends (SMART) Programme, the UNODC Early Warning Advisory (EWA) on NPS. UNODC strongly encourages national laboratories to actively use this system, which delivers an important input to the review of substances by the World Health Organization in the context of the international drug control conventions, and enhances the analytical work of drug analysis laboratories worldwide.


For more information, please see:

The role of drug analysis laboratories in Early Warning Systems. English, Spanish.
Outcome Document of the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem entitled ‘Our joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem’.

 

June 2020 – China: 2019 Drug Situation Report describes the emergence of new synthetic drugs and drug trafficking trends

BEIJING, China – June 2020: New types and forms of drugs are emerging in China, including blotter paper soaked in LSD, pills containing methylphenidate, DMT (dimethyltryptamine), 2-Fluorodeschloroketamine, and synthetic cannabinoids, according to a recently launched report on the “Drug Situation in China (2019)”. The report also highlights the challenges posed by an increase in drug-related cybercrime cases, as online drug trafficking and delivery through express courier services become the ‘new normal’.

While China saw a decrease in the number of methamphetamine and ketamine drug users between 2018 and 2019, as well as in the number and scale of domestic clandestine laboratories dismantled, the report warns about a potential resurgence in domestic synthetic drug manufacturing due to strong market demand and high profit margins. The country further reported an increase in trafficking of methamphetamine and ketamine from the Golden Triangle.

 
Source: UNODC.
For more information, please see:
Office of China National Narcotics Control Commission, Drug Situation in China (2019).
UNODC, Synthetic Drugs in East and Southeast Asia – Latest developments and challenges (May 2020).
UNODC, Global SMART Update Volume 22: The ATS market -10 years after the 2009 Plan of Action (October 2019).
UNODC, Current NPS Threats Volume II (January 2020).

 

UNODC – June 2020: Isotonitazene is a new synthetic opioid that has emerged in Europe and North America. It was first synthesised in the mid-1950s as an attempt to develop safer opioid analgesics with levels of analgesic potency higher than that of morphine. Findings from animal and in vitro studies indicate that isotonitazene acts as a opioid analgesic in humans. Isotonitazene belongs to a chemical class of nitrobenzimidazoles opioids that is structurally different from fentanyl analogues and is the first one of this group to be identified on the illicit drug market in recent years. While isotonitazene is not under international control, other drugs belonging to the same class are included in the Schedule I of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol.

Isotonitazene has been identified in Europe since April 2019. As of 28 March 2020, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has received reports of identification of isotonitazene in seized drug samples and toxicology cases from six of its Member States including Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and recently released a technical report on isotonitazene.

At the global level, reports of isotonitazene identified in seized drug samples and toxicology cases in Canada and the United States have been submitted to the UNODC Early Warning Advisory (EWA) since 2019. The substance was identified in 8 deaths in United States between June 2019 and December 2019. In February 2020, authorities in Canada seized 1,900 falsified “hydromorphone” tablets that contained isotonitazene.



Figure 1: Chemical Structure of isotonitazene
 
Source: UNODC Early Warning Advisory on New Psychoactive Substances.

For more information, please see:
EMCDDA, EMCDDA technical report on the new psychoactive substance N,N-diethyl-2-[[4-(1-methylethoxy)phenyl]methyl]-5-nitro-1Hbenzimidazole-1-ethanamine (isotonitazene) (June 2020).
UNODC, Current NPS Threats Volume II (January 2020).
UNODC, Global SMART Update Volume 21: Understanding the global opioid crisis (March 2019).