UNODC and Malaysia discuss establishing early warning mechanism for synthetic drugs

Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), 9 March 2023 – In the past decades, the global synthetic drug market has continuously evolved. The market for methamphetamine, in particular, has expanded significantly, in terms of both scale and geographical reach. At the same time, numerous new psychoactive substances (NPS) and various synthetic drug products have emerged in the market, further complicating the situation and posing serious public health challenges.

In light of these developments, some countries and regional organizations have implemented early warning systems as a measure to prevent crises before they occur. As a multidisciplinary, inter-institutional network, early warning systems enable information exchange among key actors directly or indirectly involved in the field of drugs, with an objective to identify the emergence of new drugs and notable changes in the drug market that can pose public health challenges.

Participants engage in discussion with Cameron Trueman, Intelligence Analyst from the New Zealand National Drug Intelligence Bureau, after his presentation on successfully establishing a national early warning system in New Zealand

Southeast Asia is not immune to these challenges. However, currently no early warning mechanism exists in the region. To address this gap in response to synthetic drugs, UNODC has held a series of national consultative dialogues with countries in the region to consider the establishment of national early warning systems. On 8-9 March 2023, UNODC together with the National Anti-Drugs Agency (NADA) of Malaysia held such a meeting for institutions in Malaysia. The two-day dialogue was the first meeting among representatives from forensic experts, health professionals, law enforcement, regulatory bodies, and academic institutions working in the field of drugs to consider and discuss the necessary steps to create an early warning system in the country.

“Malaysia has encountered a range of NPS in recent years, especially synthetic cannabinoids, which have the potential to cause harm to our society,” said Md Razif bin Wan, State Director for Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya of the National Anti-Drugs Agency (NADA). “This meeting is therefore timely, as an early warning system would help us better detect and understand new potential issues emerging in the country.”

Mohd Fadhli Razali, Senior Pharmacist of the National Poison Centre, shares information on substances found in poisoning cases handled by the institution

The dialogue served as a venue to discuss actionable steps to establish a national early warning mechanism, as well as identify areas for strengthening data generation and exchange among participating authorities. “At the moment, input from the health sector is still very minimal in Malaysia. At the same time, there are also non-governmental institutions that engage with the community and collect toxicological data, which can be useful contributions to a national early warning system (EWS)” said Mohd Fadhli Razali, Senior Pharmacist of the Malaysia National Poison Centre. “It is important to incorporate this information into national data to build a more complete picture of emerging substances and trends.”

“Developing a national EWS is not an easy task, so it is encouraging to see that all agencies and institutions attending this dialogue see the importance of establishing one,” said Inshik Sim, Regional Coordinator for East Asia and the Pacific for the UNODC Global SMART Programme. “UNODC is appreciative of the close collaboration we have with partner agencies in Malaysia and will continue to provide support throughout the development process.”