There is no end in sight to incidents caused by the use of quasi-legal drugs — now labeled by police as “kiken” (dangerous) drugs. The number of traffic accidents involving users of such drugs continues to increase. Seventy-four people died due to the use of such drugs in the first nine months of this year — a sharp increase from previous years. The number of people who have used such drugs at least once is estimated to have reached 400,000.
Unfortunately revisions of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law cannot effectively reduce their use because the regulations for them are looser than for narcotics, marijuana and stimulant drugs, which are controlled by specific laws. Both the national and local governments need to take every possible step — in addition to legislative action — to curb the use of the dangerous drugs. Such steps should include enlightening people about the serious health damage from using such drugs and improving treatments for habitual users.
Most of these drugs are known as “herbs” — dried vegetation laced with chemicals. When they are smoked like tobacco, they can cause hallucinations, agitation, ecstasy and dulled senses, and can cause convulsions and even death from acute poisoning.
Under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law, the health ministry lists harmful compounds used in dangerous drugs and prohibits their production, sale and use except for use in medical treatment. The ministry is rapidly adding compounds to the list to make the control more effective.
A revision of the law in April prohibits ordinary citizens from buying, possessing or using compounds on the list. A violator faces up to three years in prison or a fine of up to ¥3 million. But their production, sale or import for medical purposes is allowed.
When it is suspected that shops are selling substances containing the listed compounds, the ministry can order the shops to examine their ingredients. The shops cannot display or sell the substances until the examination is completed.
In August and September, officials of the ministry entered and inspected 114 shops in Tokyo and 17 other prefectures, and determined that 1,064 items sold there likely contained illegal compounds. Although some shops were forced to close down or suspend their business, 78 others were still operating at the end of September.
The law revision in April substantially increased the number of police actions in response to incidents involving the use of such drugs. During the January-September period, the police uncovered 359 such cases involving 406 people. The police have also started arresting drivers if they appear to be under the influence of “herbs” and other dangerous drugs, and if drugs and smoking paraphernalia are found inside their vehicles, citing the Road Traffic Law’s Article 66, which bans driving under the influence of drugs. But the efforts by the health ministry and the police have not yet produced impressive results. For example, even if the ministry puts more compounds on the list, new compounds with slightly different chemical structures are put up for sale. And some shops that have been forced to close down start selling the drugs online.
In view of the situation, the Tottori prefectural assembly has enacted a bylaw that allows authorities to ban the production, sale and use of these types of drugs without the need to specify their chemical structures once it is confirmed that the drugs cause such effects as hallucinations and agitation. This is the first bylaw of its kind.
The Democratic Party of Japan and six other opposition parties have submitted a bill to revise the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law along the same lines. Irrespective of the prospect for the bill, the health ministry, the police, medical institutions, local governments and communities and relevant businesses should join hands to create a network to crack down on the use of these dangerous drugs.
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