China’s synthetic drug problem growing, government says

Seizures rose 106pc year in 2016, according to narcotics control commission

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 10:44pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 11:05pm

China’s drug problem was severe and growing, the government said on Monday, with particularly sharp rises in the abuse and production of synthetic drugs which had become a major health concern worldwide.

Chinese seizures of methamphetamine, ketamine and other synthetic drugs surged by 106 per cent year on year in 2016, said Liu Yuejin, vice-director of the China National Narcotics Control Commission.

At the same time, the manufacture of drug precursors increased along with the production of new psychoactive substances (NPS), chemicals that mimic the effects of illegal drugs while exploiting loopholes in anti-drug laws.

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“Domestic production of crystalline methamphetamine, ketamine, and NPS was severe, not only consumed in the country but also smuggled overseas,” Liu told a press conference, adding that the market for synthetic drugs kept expanding and “in general, the drug problem is still spreading at a fast pace”.

China is believed to be one of the main manufacturers of synthetic drugs – including opioids such as fentanyl – which have been blamed for public health crises in the United States, Canada and Australia among other countries.

The drugs are readily available for purchase online from manufacturers in China, who constantly tweak their formulas to keep the them one step ahead of laws that ban the products based on their chemical composition.

Beijing has come under considerable pressure from abroad to curb the problem.

Online sales of the drugs in China saw a sharp increase, said an annual report from Liu’s commission released on Monday, with contraband smuggled in postal parcels and other means.

Two raids on online drug sellers last year ended in the arrests of 21,000 people, and the seizure of 10.8 tonnes of drugs and 52 tonness of precursor chemicals, which can be used to manufacture synthetic drugs.

The use of synthetic drugs at home has also accelerated, it said, noting that drug usage in the country had undergone a “fundamental change” as users moved away from opiates like heroin towards newly emerging drugs.

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In 2016 the number of known drug users in China rose 6.8 per cent to 2.505 million. Of these, more than 60 per cent consumed synthetic drugs (primarily methamphetamine and ketamine), 38 per cent used opiates such as heroin, and a little more than 1 per cent cocaine and marijuana.