MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Methamphetamine is the drug of choice in Asia but new synthetic drugs have found their way in the region, with authorities always playing catch up with traffickers, international drug enforcers said Tuesday.
Joseph Reagan, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration regional director for the Far East, said the legal system in many countries could not react fast enough to new psychoactive substances such as synthetic marijuana and synthetic cathinones, sometimes called bath salts. Once legislatures address the specific substance, traffickers change one chemical molecule to make a drug that is temporarily legal.
Reagan spoke at a regional drug enforcement conference in Manila where representatives from 19 countries are discussing specific investigations and ways to target traffickers.
He said the United States has a significant problem with synthetic drugs, which have also been found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.
In the Philippines, drug traffickers have created Fly High, a mixture of pulverized Ecstasy tablet, crystal meth locally known as shabu, and Viagra. It is sold at 3,000 pesos ($67) a capsule, said Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency head Arturo Cacdac Jr.
"I think they've always been around in a certain form, but what the traffickers have realized is that it's an avenue of success because it's very difficult to address that issue," Reagan told reporters. "So there's a trend where a lot of trafficking is going on in synthetic substances."
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said the number of NPS reported by its member states rose from 166 at the end of 2009 to 350 by August 2013. The number of countries reporting the emergence of NPS rose from 70 in mid-2012 to nearly 90 by August 2013.
"We're constantly playing catch up as they change these formulas, and they are very, very destructive for users," Reagan added.