At least 41 people are suspected to have died from using “dangerous drugs” since 2012, a National Police Agency official said.
The figure, which does not include deaths caused by traffic accidents, covers unnatural deaths at sites where “dangerous drugs,” which is the term that officials are now using for “dappo” (quasi-legal) drugs, were found and cases in which people somehow associated with the deaths mentioned use of those drugs.
The figure was reported Monday to a Lower House committee meeting regarding “dangerous drugs,” which are not illegal in Japan but induce effects similar to illegal narcotics and have resulted in serious problems.
At the meeting, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura stressed the importance of expanding the ministry’s narcotics control department. He said the ministry may request funding next year to procure more testing equipment and to hire additional personnel.
According to the agency, there were eight deaths in 2012, nine in 2013 and 24 in the first six months of this year in which such drugs may have played a major role.
In one case, a 36-year-old man was found dead from suffocation at a hotel in Osaka in May. Flakes of what appeared to be a quasi-legal herb were found in the room, leading police to suspect that he choked on vomit after inhaling the herb, investigative sources said.
The police agency reported the figure of 41 deaths after investigating the situation following a fatal traffic accident in June caused by a man under the influence of a “dangerous drug” in the bustling Tokyo commercial district of Ikebukuro.
“As there are cases we could not confirm details, the figure could be higher,” the agency official told the Diet committee.
Some lawmakers called for legal revisions to strengthen control of dappo drugs to ensure swift designation of such drugs and to take other necessary measures.
Tamura said the government will take appropriate steps within the existing legal framework to prevent sales of “dangerous drugs,” saying, “We will first give priority to eradicating those on store shelves.”