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New psychoactive substances banned – more and more synthetic opioids on the market

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
27.6.2018 11.47
Press release 95/2018

The Finnish Government has amended two decrees on narcotic drugs. The amendments will enter into force on 30 July 2018.

The Government Decree on new psychoactive substances (NPS) prohibited on the consumer market will list 54 new substances placed under control in Finland. Of these, 38 are entirely new substances and 16 their positional isomers. They are used only for recreational purposes, and they may have harmful or dangerous health effects. The production, import, storage, sale and supply of the substances will be prohibited. Possession or use will not be punishable. 
Psychoactive substances prohibited on the consumer market are not narcotic drugs or medicines. It is important to control them because they spread quickly in the EU. New NPS are reported to the EU Early Warning System (EWS) approximately once a week. Online marketing and free movement make the substances easily available even in Finland.
Most of the NPS are synthetic cathinones. They are related to the khat drug. Cathinones behave as stimulants, much in the same way as amphetamine-like substances, for example. One of the best known synthetic cathinones in Finland is MDPV, which is already classified as a narcotic drug. The second largest group of new psychoactive substances is synthetic cannabinoids. They carry a significant additional risk compared to plant-based cannabis. Synthetic cannabinoids may be highly potent, and accurate dosing may be difficult. They are available as pure powders and herbal blends.
In 2017, the number of new NPS on the global market was much lower than in previous years. However, public authorities are concerned about the increasing amount of synthetic opioids on the market. Synthetic opioids are the most dangerous type of NPS. Their potency varies greatly, and they are sold in many different forms. Synthetic opioids involve a high risk of serious poisoning. At worst, they can induce respiratory depression.
The proposal to place the new NPS under control was issued by the Finnish Medicines Agency (Fimea).
Five new synthetic opioids to be placed under international control
The Government Decree on narcotic substances, preparations and plants (Narcotics Decree) will be amended by transferring five highly potent synthetic opioids to another Annex within the decree. This will mean that they will be controlled in Finland even under the UN Conventions on Narcotic Drugs, based on a decision by the UN Commission on Narcotic drugs in March. All five substances have already been under control in Finland and the EU as narcotics.
The amendment concerns carfentanil, ocfentanil, furanylfentanyl, 4-fluoroisobutyrfentanyl (4-FIBF) and acryloylfentanyl (acrylfentanyl). Following the same UN decision, tetrahydrofuranylfentanyl (THF-F) will be classified as a narcotic drug for the first time in Finland. The World Health Organization (WHO) has assessed the risks of the substances. 
The five substances are structurally related to fentanyl, which is a controlled narcotic analgesic. Fentanyls are highly dangerous synthetic opioids, because they are effective in very small doses and their accurate dosing is extremely difficult. Overdose may result in a life-threatening respiratory depression. It is impossible to know the content or purity of the fentanyl products on the market. They can even be sold as other products or substances. Fentanyl use is a big problem in Estonia, among other countries. In Sweden, more than a hundred deaths were associated with fentanyls in 2017.
The production, import, storage, sale, handing over as well as possession and use of these substances will be prohibited and regarded as punishable acts. There will be zero tolerance for using the substances while driving. Banning the substances may slow down and even prevent their spread to new user groups and young people in particular. It is also easier to control the substances.
The Narcotics Decree will be further amended so that two synthetic cannabinoids, ADB-CHMINACA and CUMYL-4CN-BINACA, will be transferred from the list of psychoactive substances prohibited on the consumer market to Annex III of the Narcotics Decree. In May, the EU decided to place these substances under control across the EU. These synthetic cannabinoids are significantly more potent than cannabis, and accurate dosing may be difficult to achieve. 
Elina Kotovirta, Ministerial Adviser, tel. +358 295 163713
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