EU could be given powers to ban 'legal highs' within weeks of them hitting the market

Chemical substances mimicking effects of illegal drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine currently take two years to remove from the shelves

Brussels

The European Union could be given powers to ban dangerous psychoactive substances known as “legal highs” within weeks of them hitting the market, under new proposals unveiled by the bloc's legislative branch today.

Chemical substances mimicking the effects of illegal drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine have caused dozens of deaths, but right now it takes the EU two years to pull them from the shelves. The UN drugs office has warned that the problem is “hydra-headed”, with chemists simply tinkering with their formulas to create new, legal substances as soon as one is banned.

Under the proposals, the standard process for banning a substance within the EU would fall from 24 months to 10 months. When a substance was identified as being an “immediate risk”, temporary measures could get them off the shelves within weeks, pending a more detailed review.

“Speed makes all the difference,” Viviane Reding, vice-president of the European Commission, said today, warning that young people could be dying in the months it took to ban legal highs “Most of these substances have never even been tested on humans and nobody can say what risks they really pose to human health,” she said. “Far too often, these ‘legal’ highs are lethal.”

Powders and pills with names like Benzo Fury, China White and Meow Meow have been marketed as low-risk party drugs and sold openly in shops and on the internet. The Conservative MEP, Timothy Kirkhope, warned today that “the labs in China are moving faster than the law”.

“Many people assume that because a substance is openly on sale that there are limited risks,” he said. “However, the families of the 52 people killed in the UK last year would certainly disagree.”

Mr Kirkhope welcomed the Commission’s proposals, which now need approval by the 28 EU governments and the European Parliament.

The new measures would also give the EU a range of options to deal with psychoactive substances and penalise sellers. Today the EU can only ban a product entirely or leave it on the market. Under the new rules, the bloc would be able to ban a substance for private sale, but permit its use in the medical or chemicals industry. For the sale of substances deemed “severe-risk”, the bloc would recommend harsh criminal penalties including imprisonment.

Ms Reding conceded, however, that they would struggle to tackle the sale of legal highs on the internet, with many produced in China and sold online.

The EU drugs monitoring agency identified 73 new synthetic substances classed as psychoactive drugs last year, up from 49 such substances discovered in 2011. At least two million people in Europe have taken legal highs, with 5 per cent of the bloc's young people admitting to trying them. Britain has one of the highest rates, with a 10 per cent usage among young people.

Ms Reding warned that people were taking the drugs oblivious to the potential side-effects, which she said included hallucinations, delirium and the spread of blood-borne infections like HIV or Hepatitis C.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Plumber

£22000 - £25900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company is expanding and th...

Recruitment Genius: Corporate Account Manager

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Corporate Account Manager is ...

Recruitment Genius: Chef de Partie

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This award winning conference venues provider...

Recruitment Genius: Admin Assistant

£12000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding Insurance Brokerag...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders