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Abe declares war on quasi-legal ‘dappo’ drugs

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday declared a new war against quasi-legal highs known as “dappo” drugs, pledging to adopt a speedier process by which regulators can identify and outlaw products with dangerous narcotic or hallucinogenic ingredients.

The pronouncement came at an emergency government meeting was held in response to a recent spate of car accidents involving drivers high on the drugs. In some cases the drivers hit and killed pedestrians.

“Dappo” means law-evading in Japanese. Usually a mix of dried herbs and synthetic stimulants, dealers are quick to produce and market new cocktails that contain chemicals whose molecular structure differs very slightly from those proscribed by law.

According to the Health, Welfare and Labor Ministry, the number of chemicals outlawed under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law surged to more than 1,300 from 68 in April 2012. Still, police have been unable to keep up with the rapid emergence of new dappo drugs.

The government will quicken processes by which authorities can outlaw dangerous chemical components by using information on such drugs from other countries, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference following the meeting.

Police will also take “every measure available” to crack down on dappo drugs, including those that are not yet outlawed under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law, Suga said. He gave no details.

The National Police Agency says 40 drivers in traffic accidents were high on dappo drugs in 2013, up from 19 people in 2012.

On June 24 this year, motorist Keiji Nagura, 37, of Saitama Prefecture, reportedly took a dappo drug and then struck and killed a woman and injured seven people in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo.

On Feb. 4, a car hit and injured 15 people in the Tenjin area in the city of Fukuoka. The driver had allegedly taken dappo drugs.

Suga indirectly asked media outlets to refrain from calling the drugs “dappo haabu”(dappo herb), saying it could give the impression that they are less dangerous than other narcotics.

“We’d like people in the media to ensure that (the drugs) are understood to be highly dangerous,” Suga said.

The National Police Agency and the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry are asking the public to propose an alternative name for the “dappo doraggu” (dappo drugs), the term widely in use.

The current name gives the impression that they pose a low risk to health, the government said.

The agencies say the new name should clearly indicate the drugs’ danger, and be easy for people of all generations to understand. It should not include the word “haabu” (herb). Suggestions are invited by email to ikenboshu-yakuju@npa.go.jp by July 18.