Home affairsWritten evidence submitted by Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [DFU 02]


I am writing to you regarding a brief follow up session that the Home Affairs Committee is holding on New Psychoactive Substances and Khat. Whilst you have recently published a report on Khat which we will use for the inquiry, it would be helpful to get an update on your 2011 Novel Psychoactive Substances report. Please could you inform us as to:

1.Your assessment on the progress of the recommendations accepted by the Government?

2.Whether you are still supportive of all the recommendations within your novel psychoactive substances report?

3.What work the novel psychoactive substances committee has carried out in the past two years?

4.Whether you believe the Temporary Class Drug Orders are sufficient for tackling NPS’?

5.Whether you consider the prevention and education work around NPS’ to be sufficient and if not, what further work could be done?

6.Any further conclusions drawn or opinions formed as to the effectiveness of the UK in tackling the problems of NPS’ since your report.

It would be helpful to have a response to this letter by Wednesday 20 November.

Committee Specialist

13 November 2013


I am writing in response to your letter of 13 November 2013. I attach below the ACMD’s response to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry on NPS.

Questions 1

In response to the ACMD report on novel psychoactive substances (NPS) “Legal Highs” in October 2011 a number of positive actions have been taken by the Home Office. These have included careful consideration of the ACMD recommendations regarding the use of the “Medicines Act” and consumer protection legislation to control the NPS market—there has so far been only limited success in the implementation of these, however, and considerable legal obstacles make this difficult. ACMD continue to consider the “Analogue Act” in the USA as another approach, and have discussed the possibility of streamlining the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1971 (MDA) to allow the updating of the list of banned substances as new NPS emerge. This is again beset with legal difficulties.

The Home Office have established a “Forensic Early Warning System” (FEWS) which undertakes sophisticated chemical analysis and identification of new NPS as they emerge—this has proved very valuable to ACMD in alerting the Council to new and potentially dangerous substances. The Home Office have also established a “Drugs Early Warning System” (DEWS), which collects up-to-date information from a network of intelligence sources around the country—and provides a valuable picture of the prevalence of new NPS and their potential dangers. In addition, the Government has introduced the “Temporary Class Drug Order” (TCDO) as a rapid means of temporary control of new NPS that are initially judged to be significantly or potentially harmful.

The ACMD recommendation that: “The UK should be proactive in developing EU and international networks to address the issue of NPS” has been answered by the formation of the “Roma-Lyon Group”—an international network of officials and experts tackling the issues around NPS. I have attended two meetings of this group in London under the UK Chairmanship of the G8 group in April and October 2013. In addition to the member state experts, the meetings were attended by representatives from the US Drug Enforcement Agency, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), INTERPOL and EUROPOL. This has helped to develop an international network to address NPS, which has become a global problem.

Questions 2

The ACMD are still supportive of the recommendations made in our 2011 report. We understand, however, that the US Government have encountered legal difficulties in implementing the Analogue Act in controlling NPS and are considering a revision of this—we will follow this with great interest. We are also following developments in New Zealand, subsequent to the Psychoactive Substances Act (which commenced in July 2013), to see what the implications are of their attempts to regulate the NPS market through licensing.

Question 3

The ACMD Novel Psychoactive Substances Committee (formerly a Working Group) has undertaken the following since September 2011:

September 2011—recommended that the psychostimulant desoxypipradrol be controlled under the MDA. The Home Secretary imposed an import ban in November 2011, and the drug was subsequently controlled under the MDA.

October 2011—ACMD presented its report and recommendation on the NPS market and suggested ways that might be used to control it.

March 2012—ACMD recommended the first use of a TCDO to control the synthetic ketamine analogue methoxetamine This was accepted and was followed by a more detailed report from ACMD in October 2012, leading to the control of this drug under the MDA, together with a number of related synthetic analogues.

October 2012—ACMD recommended that the psychoactive metabolite of the pain reliever tramadol—O-desmethyltramadol be controlled under the MDA, this recommendation was accepted and implemented.

October 2012—ACMD provided a further recommendation on the control of a number of synthetic cannabinoid substances under the MDA. These had emerged since the earlier report from ACMD on such substances in August 2009—showing how rapidly the NPS field moves. This recommendation was accepted and implemented.

June 2013—ACMD recommended two TCDO’s for the synthetic benzofurans (eg 5- and 6-APB: “Benzofury”) and a novel class of LSD-like synthetic hallucinogens, the NBOMe compounds. Both recommendations were accepted and implemented, and fuller ACMD reports on these drugs are due to be submitted later this month.

Questions 4

ACMD has recommended TCDOs in three instances, where we had sufficient information to judge that new NPS were significantly harmful or potentially harmful. We believe that this is a useful “fire-fighting” mechanism, but it does not address the wider question of how to control this important new drug market.

Question 5

There is never enough work on prevention and information on NPS, although progress has been made, for example, with the Home Office’s summer communications campaign on NPS. The FRANK information site continues to be updated with information on NPS.

Question 6

The UK has proved to be a leader in bringing together the international authorities responsible for controlling NPS, particularly through the G8 Roma-Lyon group. The use of “generic definitions”, that is, widening the control of particular substance or group of substances to a larger number of closely related chemical analogues is a measure pioneered by the UK, and likely to be adopted elsewhere (eg in Japan). The FEWS and DEWS systems are also models of mechanisms designed to meet the challenges of the fast-moving NPS field.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Les Iversen

ACMD Chair

Prepared 19th December 2013