Synthetic drugs a threat again


New or newly-reopened speciality shops are once again selling highly-dubious synthetic drugs in the Czech Republic. While legal for the time being, experts warn the substances, if used recreationally, can prove extremely hazardous to health. In April, Czech legislators passed a bill adding more than 30 similar drugs to a list of banned substances; but manufacturers and sellers have managed to work around the law by slightly changing the chemical formulas involved.

A warning is included on the small packages of synthetic drugs once again being sold on the market and sellers may pretend the substances are novelty items not intended for internal consumption. But neither is fooling anyone; what else than for that could the synthetic drugs be for? The particular danger of the new products is that no one can be sure of the hazards or side-effects, from strong addiction to damage to users’ health or worse. Jindřich Vobořil is the government’s anti-drug coordinator, who makes clear anyone trying the products is putting themselves at risk:

“Obviously anyone trying it is at risk but especially young users who overdose most often because of their inexperience. I doubt the new synthetic drugs have been tested much on humans and obviously, unlike other pharmaceuticals, there are no instructions on how they should be handled.”

Czech TV said on Monday that death could not be ruled out...

Jindřich Vobořil,  photo: Archive of the Czech Government
“That's right. And there have been reports of deaths across Europe, for example related to substance known as Methedrone. And one of the new designer drugs again apparently available on the Czech market is New Methedrone, so it’s likely to be very similar. What we are seeing is a new phenomenon that is probably going to stay for a long time: legal selling as opposed to the Mafia-style sale of drugs. Basically, they change the substances after we ban them then change them again to get them out again.”

So they are making use of a limited amount of time, the period it takes for legislators to act...

“Exactly. And you have to consider that in the Czech Republic we were extremely fast: the whole process to ban took just four months. But even in that period they were able to sell tonnes.”

According to Jindřich Vobořil, the government is planning changes to allow it – rather than Parliament – to issue at least temporary bans of one year to keep suspect substances off shelves. That would allow time for tests to be conducted to prepare the ground for permanent bans, while depriving sellers of their legal window of opportunity. Speciality stores not allowed to sell the products even temporarily would then lose incentive or go out of business. Jindřich Vobořil again:

“We think that it would no longer be profitable enough to maintain the stores; we think that they need at least six months of sales to be able to do it; anything less will not be enough.”

How soon the issue will be resolved is still a question, but experts say the government will have to act quickly to prevent the damage done, to stop further synthetic substances from legally making their way into the hands of new, often young first-time users. Unlike alcohol, Mr Vobořil says, on synthetic drugs there is not even a ban of 18 years and over, which could for the time being have slashed at least some of the threat.