The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will inspect stores suspected of selling quasi-legal narcotics as early as this week, officials said Wednesday, a day after the Cabinet pledged a crackdown on so-called “dappo” (law-evading) drugs.
The inspections of about 70 shops will be conducted jointly with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Metropolitan Police Department. If inspectors find dappo drugs, the metropolitan government will issue an order to remove them from view and from sale, the officials said.
As of Wednesday, the Tokyo government had identified 68 stores selling the drugs, which are usually a mix of dried herbs and synthetic stimulants whose chemical structure differs slightly from compounds prohibited by law.
Kaoru Noguchi, the head of the Tokyo health and safety division, said the number of vendors in Tokyo has remained constant for the past few years, despite efforts to monitor retailers — including those online.
Most of the narcotic and hallucinogenic compounds are manufactured overseas, and the metropolitan government has been trying to identify them from online descriptions and outlaw them before they reach Japan, she said.
However, because dealers are quick to produce new cocktails by slightly changing the chemicals’ molecular structure, it has been a game of cat and mouse, experts say. The number of chemicals outlawed under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law has surged to 1,378, up from 68 in April 2012, the health ministry has said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday ordered authorities to speed up the process by which they identify and outlaw new substances.
There has been a spate of traffic accidents involving drivers who were apparently high on dappo drugs. The number rose to 40 in 2013, up from 19 in 2012, according to National Police Agency figures.
On Tuesday in Sendai, police arrested Hiroaki Toyoshima, 34, on suspicion of driving a car without a license after he slammed the vehicle into a truck. Police quoted him as saying that he had been feeling groggy after smoking dappo drugs.
In a separate case on Saturday, Yoshiyuki Kitano, 38, was allegedly under the influence of dappo drugs when he rammed a car into a taxi and a motorbike at an intersection in Tokyo’s Kita Ward, injuring three people.
Kitano said he had taken dappo herbs purchased from a dealer in Tokyo, and was smoking them at the time of the accident, police said.
Saturday’s case follows an incident on June 24 in which Keiji Nagura, 37, of Saitama Prefecture, reportedly smoked dappo herbs before crashing his SUV into a phone booth, hitting and killing a woman and injuring seven other pedestrians near JR Ikebukuro Station in Tokyo.
The police quoted Nagura as saying that he had twice bought drugs from a shop in the neighborhood and had smoked them about 10 times in the past.
Information from Kyodo added