A New Focus for the DEA

The U.S Drug Enforcement Administration stays busy synthesizing new drugs in the laboratory, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The purpose of this research is to curtail the recreational drug market, which is currently worth billions of dollars. Manufacturers are continually synthesizing new drugs that provide the effects of street drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine and marijuana. These synthetic drugs are chemically distinct from traditional street drugs and may legal to use until a national government passes new laws outlawing the synthetic drug.

A Never Ending Supply of New Synthetic Drugs

The International Narcotics Control Board reports that synthetic drugs such as 2NE1 and STS-135 have entered the recreational-drug market at the rate of about once per week since 2008. Governments routinely outlaw these drugs but window of time always exists during which the drug is readily available and legal to use. The U.S. Congress amended the Controlled Substances Act in 2012 to cover 26 new drugs. Japan acted similarly in 2012, adding 54 drugs to its list of banned substances.

How the Producers Beat the Laws

The fact that a new drug is illegal in one country is no guarantee that its residents will be unable to obtain the drug. Customers in a country where a drug is illegal can easily order it over the Internet from a retailer in a country where the drug has not yet been outlawed. The drug may then be shipped into the customer’s country with false or misleading labeling, such as labeling synthetic marijuana “plant food.” Synthetic drugs are often less expensive to manufacture than their natural counterparts. Real marijuana typically provides a profit in the range of $1,000 to $5,000 per pound, while synthetic marijuana earns the retailer a profit of about $6,800 per pound.

The INCB is working to create a single list of controlled substances at the international level that allow countries to easily share data with each other regarding the latest synthetic drugs. This latest step towards this goal has been the creation of an early warning system on these drugs, which has been approved by 55 countries. Countries that have sophisticated drug laboratories such as the United States will then be able to share their data with other countries, reducing the time required to outlaw designer drugs.

A Difficult Drug to Regulate

The rapid influx of designer drugs has caused prosecutors in 15 countries to rely on laws that allow them to ban drugs that have a similar effect to drugs that have already been banned, without describing the new drug’s specific molecular structure. Enforcement of these statutes is typically a difficult task, since establishing a drug’s effects usually requires extensive research.