Draft rules to stop drug dealers putting dangerous new drugs on the market have been approved by the European Parliament.

MEPs voted in favour of measures to ensure that harmful psychoactive substances known as “legal highs” are withdrawn from sale rapidly. The legislation will also mean criminals who breach the ban by producing or supplying such drugs face up to ten years in prison.

The move is aimed at halting the rapid spread in the recreational use of psychoactive substances that imitate the effects of illicit drugs like ecstasy and cocaine. They are sold under user-friendly street names like Snowblow, Spice, Meow Meow, White Ice and Bath-salts, misleading young people to believe that they are indulging in low-risk fun. However a recent UN report warned that the new synthetic substances pose “unforeseen public health challenges” and can be far more dangerous than traditional drugs like cocaine and heroin.

The use of legal highs among young people in Ireland far exceeds the EU average, according to a 2011 Eurobarometer survey. It found that 16 per cent of 15-24 year olds in Ireland had used such substances at least once, compared to an EU average of 5 per cent.

Under the planned laws, the time taken to assess and ban harmful substances from the EU market would be reduced from the current two years down to ten months.  In the event of an immediate risk, a temporary one-year ban could be introduced within weeks.

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