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European Commission seeks to step up fight against 'legal highs'

  |   Sept. 19, 2013 at 12:04 AM
BRUSSELS, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Brussels could pull newly discovered "legal highs" from the market immediately under new drug enforcement measures proposed this week by the European Commission.

European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding announced Tuesday the proposals are aimed at streamlining the laborious process of banning dangerous new psychoactive substances, which now can take up to two years to complete.

One of its key proposals would enable the EU to temporarily remove new types of legal high-inducing drugs "immediately" while the level of health threat they pose can be assessed and graded over a 10-month process.

"This measure will make sure the substance is no longer available to consumers while a full risk assessment is being carried out," Reding said.

"Under the current system, no temporary measures are possible and the commission needs to wait for a full risk assessment report to be completed before making a proposal to restrict a substance."

The measures must be agreed to by EU member states and the European Parliament before coming into force.

The Ccommission says quicker response times through a coordinated European response is needed due to an unprecedented rise in new substances found to be used by young people as alternatives to such illegal narcotics as heroin, cocaine and ecstasy.

A 2011 EU Drugs Agency-Europol report found that the EU's current mechanism for tackling new psychoactive substances is lacking in the face of a startling jump in new types for drugs, which have tripled between 2009 and 2012.

So far this year, Brussels says, at least one new substance has been reported every week, due in part to their availability over the Internet, which speeds their distribution throughout Europe -- 80 percent of new psychoactive substances are detected in more than one EU member nation.

At the same time, Reding said, the legislation could be implemented without jeopardizing the legitimate industrial and commercial uses of some of the substances, such as Vanoxerine, which is currently being assessed as a treatment for cocaine addiction, The Financial Times reported.

Another new element is the classifying of new recreational drugs into graduated threat levels. Under that measure, substances posing a "moderate" risk would be removed only from consumer markets while those deemed to pose a "severe" risk would be pulled from all markets.

Only the latter would be subject to criminal prosecution.

The tiered system would replace the purely "binary" option Brussels now has, under which it must either impose full market bans with criminal sanctions or doing nothing.

That system has resulted in some of the substances remaining available, the European justice chief said.

"With the new system, the EU will be able to tackle more cases and deal with them more proportionately, by tailoring its response to the risks involved and taking into account the legitimate commercial and industrial uses."

During a news conference announcing the legislation, Reding told of a 22-year-old Belfast man she named Sean who died after taking "China White," purchased from a downtown shop, the EU Observer reported.

She also referenced 19-year-old "Alex" of Edinburgh, who died taking "Benzo Fury" at a festival.

EU polling figures show the biggest use of so-called designer drugs among young people is in Ireland, where 16 percent asked had said they had tried them at least once, followed by Britain, Poland and Latvia at 10 percent each.

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