Methamphetamines and other synthetic drugs have become the dominant drug-type of choice around the world, and there were record levels of meth seizures in 2013 – particularly in Asia – according to a report released Tuesday by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) such as meth and ecstasy are now more widely used than opium or heroin, according to the report. There has also been an “unprecedented” increase of "new psychoactive substances" (NPS), drugs that have been chemically altered with other ingredients, and they are quickly taking over the market.
The study said there were 348 reports of NPS drugs in more than 90 countries over the last five years. The U.N. Agency noted, however, that this number could be much higher because of how quickly new NPS drugs are developed.
The drugs are often marketed as “legal highs” and “designer drugs.” NPS use is no longer restricted to the niche markets the substances once occupied, and they are flooding countries faster than governments can ban them, the report said.
The U.N. classifies NPS as drugs that are not under any sort of international control convention but pose a health risk to the public.
The rapid increase of meth usage is attributed to changing international supply chains, with ATS markets that once only had a regional presence now operating on a global scale. New supply routes to Asia – the world’s largest market for ATS drugs and ecstasy – are cropping up from West Africa and the Americas, supplementing meth manufacturing in Asia, the report says.
As a result of the new global supply chains, ATS drug seizures by authorities have skyrocketed, up 80 percent from 2010 figures to more than 135 tons of ATS drugs in 2012.
The report also said that the United States has seen a significant increase in meth manufacturing and smuggling from Mexico, though usage of the drug has remained fairly low and stable – an indication that people are actually using an NPS that is being marketed as meth.
The same is happening with ecstasy in Canada; there are reports of high ecstasy usage, but seizure rates of the drug have dropped, meaning users are likely taking a drug with unknown substances added and unknown or health risks.
"Emergency services may therefore find themselves unable to identify life-threatening substances and powerless to administer the proper treatment to users," the U.N. report said.