Latest news on synthetic drugs

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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.

5-Methoxy-N,N-diallyltryptamine (5-MeO-DALT)
3-Methoxyphencyclidine (3-Meo-PCP)
3F-Phenmetrazine (3-Fluorophenmetrazine, 3-FPM)
Synthetic Cannabinoids
Synthetic Opioids

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).


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

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).