Between 2008 and 2015, more than 600 new psychoactive substances were reported worldwide. Some, like ‘bath salts’, sound innocuous, while others, like ‘zombie drugs’, do not. However, all are dangerous and their numbers continue to rise.
So, how do authorities and forensic laboratories deal with a growing, borderless illicit drug market that seems to stay one step ahead of the law?
Illicit drug seizures and arrests are at record levels for nearly all drug types
The first, free, UTS Science in Focus public lecture for 2017 is being held on Thursday 27 April. Entitled Synthetic drugs – are we fighting a losing battle?, it will delve into the latest developments in drug detection and enforcement, and reveal how scientists are developing new ways to fight drug crime.
Headlining the event are Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Forensic Science Marie Morelato and PhD candidate Morgan Philp.
Morelato says, “Illicit drug seizures and arrests are at record levels for nearly all drug types with 23.5 tonnes of illicit drugs seized nationally between 2014 and 2015.”
In the lecture, Philp will be discussing the rise of these new psychoactive substances and how they’re produced (often it’s by slightly altering the chemical structure of existing drugs or mimicking their effects).
Up until recently, Philp says, many were technically legal because they weren’t specifically listed in legislation. But they’re definitely not ‘safe’.
“When new psychoactive substances began appearing on the drug market, they were technically legal to use,” Philp explains. “Many countries, including Australia, have now included these compounds in the legislation under a generic ban of structurally similar compounds.”
“The major problem with these substances is they are particularly potent and have serious abuse potential. At higher concentrations, they often exhibit adverse side effects such as panic attacks, paranoia and suicidal thoughts, to name a few.”
Morelato, meanwhile, will explore a new way of fighting the drug problem and highlight how, through the use of forensic intelligence, authorities can gain the upper hand.
“Forensic scientists detect, collect, analyse and interpret the traces of criminal activities,” she says.
“Through the traces they collect, they attempt to reconstruct an event that happened in the past and detect patterns of repetitive criminal activities. This could then be used to disrupt criminal activity, better evaluate the risks associated with new substances, better allocate resources and better inform policy makers. And potentially lead to future arrests.”
UTS Science in Focus: Synthetic drugs – are we fighting a losing battle? will be held on Thursday 27 April. Visit scienceinfocus.uts.edu.au to register for the event and to view videos of previous public lectures.