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European Commission

Press release

Strasbourg, 17 April 2014

New psychoactive substances: European Commission proposal gets green light from the European Parliament

In its last plenary session before the May 2014 European elections, the European Parliament gave its strong backing (­­507 in favour of the Regulation, 37 against and 33  abstentions) to the Commission's proposal to tackle rapidly emerging new psychoactive substances used as alternatives to illicit drugs (IP/13/837 and MEMO/13/790). The new rules will equip the EU with a quicker and smarter system to protect the more than 2 million citizens in Europe taking pills or powders sold to them as ‘legal’.

"Today's vote shows that the European Parliament has understood the urgency for acting: Legal highs are not legal, they are lethal", said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. "New psychoactive substances don't stop at national borders. More and more young people are put at risk because of the growing number and availability of these dangerous substances. In a borderless internal market, we need common EU rules to stop such substances that can cost the life of young people. I would like to thank the rapporteurs, Jacek Protasiewicz and Teresa Jiménez-Becerril, for their speedy work on this important file. I hope that national Ministers in the Council will now follow the lead of the Parliament and swiftly adopt this law that can help save lives."

The European Parliament endorsed the Commission's proposals for a more rapid system preventing harmful new substances from being sold to consumers, and for a graduated and proportionate approach that responds to the risks of new substances in a targeted way. The new EU rules will speed up the Union's action from over 2 years to ten months. It will also allow for the withdrawal within weeks of seriously harmful substances from the consumer market for one year.

The main changes introduced by the European Parliament to the Commission's proposals aim to:

  1. Clarify the conditions under which a Member State can introduce more stringent national measures to tackle the specific risks that a new substance poses in its territory;

  2. Strengthen the exchange of information on and the risk assessment of new substances.

Next steps: Following todays' approval from the European Parliament, to become law, the Commission's proposal needs to be adopted by the Member States in Council, following the ordinary legislative procedure.


In recent years, on average one new psychoactive substance was detected every week in the EU, and the numbers are expected to increase in the coming years. Since 1997, Member States have detected more than 300 substances and their number more than tripled between 2009 and 2013 (from 24 in 2009 to 81 in 2013).

A Commission report found in 2011 that the current system has struggled to keep up with the large numbers of new substances emerging on the market (IP/11/1236). The Commission's proposal will enhance and speed up the Union's ability to fight new psychoactive substances by providing for:

  1. A quicker procedure: At present it takes a minimum of two years to ban a substance in the EU. In the future, the Union will be able to act within just ten months. In particularly serious cases, the procedure will be shorter still (four months) as it will also be possible to quickly withdraw substances from the market for one year. This measure will make sure the substance is no longer available to consumers while a full risk assessment is being carried out. Under the current system, no temporary measures are possible and the Commission needs to wait for a full risk assessment report to be completed before making a proposal to restrict a substance.

  2. A more proportionate system: The new system will allow for a graduated approach where substances posing a moderate risk will be subject to consumer market restrictions and substances posing a high risk to full market restrictions. Only the most harmful substances, posing severe risks to consumers' health, will be submitted to criminal law provisions, as in the case of illicit drugs. Under the current system, the Union's options are binary - either taking no action at EU level or imposing full market restrictions and criminal sanctions. This lack of options means that, at present, the Union does not take action in relation to some harmful substances. With the new system, the Union will be able to tackle more cases and deal with them more proportionately, by tailoring its response to the risks involved and taking into account the legitimate commercial and industrial uses (such as Pregabalin, a drug used to treat epilepsy).

The European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) backed the Commission's proposal with an overwhelming majority in March 2014 (MEMO/14/173).

For more information

Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Justice Commissioner:

Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU

European Commission – Drug control policy:

2011 Eurobarometer on "Youth attitudes on drugs”

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction 'European Drug Report' 2013:

Follow EU Justice on Twitter: @EU_Justice

Contacts :

Mina Andreeva (+32 2 299 13 82)

Natasha Bertaud (+32 2 296 74 56)

For the public: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11 or by e­mail

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