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New ‘legal high’ creeping into Bangladesh

  • Published at 04:35 pm September 11th, 2018
The Department of Narcotics Control and Dhaka Customs confiscated 468 kg of New Psychotropic Substance (NPS)- known locally as 'khat,' estimated to be worth around Tk70 lakh, on August 31, 2018 Courtesy

CID on Tuesday seized a second large consignment of NPS at Dhaka airport

The seizure of a second consignment of a new “legal high” disguised as tea leaves at the country’s main airport has raised fears of a fresh drug epidemic about to sweep the country.

Law enforcing agencies working out of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka have now seized two large shipments of New Psychotropic Substance (NPS) - known locally as “khat” - in the past fortnight alone.  

On August 31, the Department of Narcotics Control and Dhaka Customs confiscated 468kg of the contraband, estimated to be worth around Tk70 lakh.

This was followed on September 9 by the seizure by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of a far bigger consignment of 1,600 kilograms of the so-called “legal high”, worth Tk 2.38 crore. 

Both shipments had arrived at the airport's cargo village from Ethiopia.

“Acting on a tip-off, the CID’s Serious Crime Squad seized the consignment on Monday that had arrived on Sunday via the Foreign Post Office,” CID Assistant Superintendent of Police (Media) Sharmin Jahan said.  

“Since the consignment arrived via post office there is no specific carrier.”

CID Deputy Inspector General Md Shah Alam told a press conference at CID Headquarters on Tuesday that the intended receivers of the consignment are sued in a case lodged with Paltan police station on September 3. 

“CID is working for arresting the members of trans-border drug-dealer syndicate,” he said. “The 96 cartons were labeled as 'green tea' and were supposed to be forwarded to 20 addresses across the country (which) we are now verifying.” 

Anti-narcotics officials fear the NPS consignments might have entered Bangladesh as part of a complex smuggling route, or else were simply for distribution locally.

“After reaching the country, the consignments could have been re-packaged and sent to other countries,” DNC's Additional Director Nazrul Islam Shikdar said. “The drug also could have been sold in the local market.”

What is NPS?

The global map provided by United Nation office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) last December showed the smuggling of NPS had not been reported in Bangladesh up to that point.

UNODC defines NPS as “substances of abuse, either in a pure form or a preparation, that are not controlled by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, but which may pose a public health threat”. 

UNODC says the new psychoactive substances have been known in the market by terms such as “designer drugs”, “legal highs”, “herbal highs”, “bath salts”, “research chemicals” and “laboratory reagents”.

Furthermore, the main substance groups of NPS sold in the market are aminoindanes, synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones, phencyclidine-type substances, phenethylamines, piperazines, plant-based substances, salvia divinorum and khat, and tryptamines. 

NPS available on the market have similar effects as substances under international control such as cannabis, cocaine, heroin, LSD, MDMA (ecstasy) or methamphetamine.

The majority of NPS reported until December 2017 have been stimulants, followed by synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists and classic hallucinogens.

What are the risks of NPS?

DNC's Additional Director Nazrul Islam Shikdar said NPS is usually consumed after dissolving it in water. “It creates stimulations in human physique similar to yaba consumption,” he said.  

UNODC's Early Warning Advisory on New Psychoactive Substances issued in December 2017 said the use of NPS is often linked to health problems. “In general, side effects of NPS range from seizures to agitation, aggression, acute psychosis as well as potential development of dependence,” it said.

“NPS users have frequently been hospitalized with severe intoxications. Safety data on toxicity and carcinogenic potential of many NPS are not available or very limited, and information on long-term adverse effects or risks are still largely unknown.”

UNODC says the purity and composition of products containing NPS are often not known. “(This) places users at high risk as evidenced by hospital emergency admissions and deaths, sometimes associated with poly-substance use.”

Origin and manufacture

According to the World Drug Report 2013, NPS originates primarily in East and South Asia, notably in countries known for their advanced chemical and pharmaceutical industries. 

Domestic manufacture has also been reported by countries in Europe, the Americas and Asia. 

Nonetheless, the overall pattern is one of trans-regional trafficking which deviates from the clandestine manufacture of controlled psychotropic substances such as ATS, which typically occurs within the same region as where the consumers are located.

How widespread is NPS?

NPS has become a global phenomenon with over 110 countries and territories from all regions of the world having reported one or more of the substances. 

Up to December 2017, more than 800 substances had been reported to the UNODC Early Warning Advisory (EWA) on NPS by governments, laboratories and partner organisations. 

The fresh entry of NPS into Bangladesh this month is expected to increase the burden on law enforcers policy makers already striving to limit the availability and use of yaba, phensedyl and cannabis.

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