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We thank Mr Parsons for his comments [1] on the practical difficulties in the UK of using laws such as consumer safety legislation to control the open sale of new psychoactive substances (NPS). From a pan-European level we would not argue with his knowledge of the detail, but our article noted that it was the UK Home Office who recommended use of trading standards powers to remove mephedrone from shelves as a result of mislabelling in April 2010. The Association of Chiefs of Police Officers continues to recommend use of those powers in its Guidance on Policing New Psychoactive Substances of July 2010, repeated in its update of November 2011 [2], and still in May 2012 the UK Government informed the House of Lords Inquiry that it considered such legislation may have a greater role to play in controlling NPS [3].

These powers have also been used on a large scale in Poland to close nearly 1000 ‘head-shop’ establishments before the November 2010 law [4]. The rapidly increasing referrals from toxicology centres for medical intervention linked with NPS fell from a high of 258 in October 2010 to only 21 in December [5]. In Romania, the number of drug-related medical emergencies (primarily linked to NPS) had risen steadily from 144 in February 2010 to 335 in December 2010, half of whom were young people under the age of 25 years, with nearly 160 ‘head shops’ counted by February 2011 [6]. The Government Order of February 2011 created mixed teams to use powers under consumer safety, medicines, drugs and even tax laws to stop the open sale of NPS. Following action from these teams, the number of ‘head shops’ fell by two thirds within a month (medical emergency data not available), and there are now only a handful left. Without doubt, these were actions where consumer protection agencies acted in the public interest. Nevertheless, while these laws are viable options as tools to react rapidly, it is not a minority view at decision-making and policy-implementation levels that drugs should be subject to drug control laws, medicines should have therapeutic properties and consumer protection enforcement is not designed to deal with unknown chemicals.

For the future, following the assessment of the Council Decision 2005/387/JHA on new psychoactive substances, the European Commission aims to revise it this year, with one of the aims to better align laws in the field of drug control, consumer protection, food safety and medicines legislation to cover the wide variety of substances that emerge [7]. The current process is accompanied by wide consultations of experts and stakeholders, including from the Commission's services responsible for European Union consumer safety and medicines legislation. We await the outcome with interest.

Declarations of interest

None.

References

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