New Psychoactive Substances

Between 2008 and 2016, 168 different NPS were reported by countries in the region, most of them synthetic cathinones, a group of substances with stimulant effect, following by synthetic cannabinoids. The high proportion of NPS with stimulant effect may reflect the existence of a large market for stimulant in the region, which, however, continues to be mainly characterized by the use of methamphetamine.

Notwithstanding this, and in contrast to the early years of NPS emergence between 2008 and 2010, when only a very limited number of NPS were reported, in 2015, countries in the region reported a large number of NPS belonging to a wide range of categories. The number of synthetic cannabinoids (27) reported in 2015 was almost at par with the number of synthetic cathinones (30), closely followed by phenethylamines (23). This points to a growing diversification of NPS present in the region which may reflect both a wider range of substances present as well as greater awareness and identification capability of countries in the region. As data for 2016 are still provisional, trends should be interpreted with caution. The data may also to some extent reflect UNODC’s biennial data collection rhythm for NPS which ensures more comprehensive coverage in specific years.

The group of NPS which has experienced the largest increase in terms of number of substances is the category of “other substances”, which, in South-East Asia, consists of several synthetic opioids and benzodiazepine derivatives as well as a diverse range of other substances. To date, there are no reports of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl analogues being sold to users in the region. In other regions such as North America and Europe, fentanyl analogues have been linked to a large and rising number of overdose deaths among opioid users. There is a potential risk that traffickers supplying East and South-East Asia, where a considerable heroin market exists, may try to cut heroin with these highly potent substances to increase their profit margins. Given the limited forensic capacity of several countries in the region to identify these substances, such a development could go underreported .

The emergence of several benzodiazepine derivatives, none of which has current medical use, gives rise to concern in a region with a history of illicit benzodiazepine manufacture, trafficking and non-medical use.

Not all NPS reported from the region are necessarily meant for the regional drug market, as the region is frequently mentioned as an origin of NPS shipments trafficked to other regions. Still, there is increasing evidence of a wide range of NPS present on the regional drug market, particularly in the form of tablets. NPS are being used as adulterants in tablets sold as “ecstasy”, but they are also sold under various street names. Users of such synthetic drug tablets are often unaware of the substances contained and the health risks they pose.


For the purposes of the present report, the analysis of NPS includes ketamine, which differs from other NPS in that is widely used in human and veterinary medicine, while most NPS have little or no history of medical use.

Seizures of ketamine in East and South-East Asia in 2015 amounted to 20.4 mt, the highest amount reported from the region since the start of monitoring. China and Hong Kong, China together accounted for 99% of the amount of ketamine seizure in the region in 2015. Seizures of ketamine continue to decrease in other countries in the region such as Thailand and Malaysia.

Chinese authorities dismantled a total of 113 illicit ketamine manufacture facilities in 2015. Besides China, Malaysian authorities seized the first ever illicit ketamine manufacture facility in the country.