Drugs: fast EU-wide ban of new dangerous substances 

Press Releases 
Plenary session 
  • Quicker ban on legal substances posing a threat to public health used for illicit new drugs
  • Subject to criminal law once included in the list of illegal drugs
  • Europol to help track criminal gangs involved in manufacture and distribution

New psychoactive substances will be banned from the EU faster. Producing and selling them will be punished with similar penalties to other illicit drugs.

Under updated legislation passed by Parliament on Tuesday, the procedure to determine the potential effects of new psychoactive substances (NPS), and to adopt control measures in the EU if needed, will be significantly shorter, in order to keep up with the fast-paced developments on the market.


National authorities will have 6 months - instead of 12 - to apply an EU decision. Information exchange, via the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), will be improved.


NPS are chemical substances which are traded freely and have similar effects to some other illegal drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, cannabis and ecstasy. Once banned from the market, the production, distribution and sale of the most dangerous new substances could be punishable with maximum penalties of between five and ten years imprisonment, as is the case for other illicit drugs.  


Europol will have a more significant role in the early-warning system and risk assessment procedure, to help determine cross-border involvement of criminal organisations.


Parliament passed changes to the EMCDDA founding Regulation with 609 votes to 19 and 29 abstentions, while the modified Directive, already in second reading, was approved without a vote.




Teresa Jiménez-Becerril (EPP, ES), rapporteur for the Directive, said: “New psychoactive substances, most of them manufactured in China and India, are becoming more and more popular. They are offered online and in shops, and authorities are finding it difficult to tackle the spread. Our aim is to reduce their availability on the market and ensure that producers and distributors can be prosecuted”.


Michal Boni (EPP, PL), rapporteur for the EMCDDA Regulation, stressed: “254 persons died in the EU in 2016 and 2017 following consumption of new psychoactive substances. It is our political and moral obligation to protect the health of our citizens, especially the younger generation, ensuring a quick reaction against NPS and better coordination of national measures”. 



Next steps

EU member states will have twelve months to integrate the changes to the Directive into their national legislation. The updated Regulation will apply from the end of that transposition period.


Quick Facts


New psychoactive substances (NPS) -also known as “legal highs”, “herbal highs”, “bath salts” and “research chemicals”-, are defined by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as “substances of abuse, either in a pure form or a preparation, that are not controlled by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, but which may pose a public health threat”.


The term “new” does not necessarily refer to new inventions (several NPS were first created 40 years ago), but to substances that have recently become available on the market. They have rapidly proliferated over the last decade, benefitting from globalisation and new communications technologies, and are often sold in specialised shops and via the internet.


Some popular examples of these substances are MDPV and spice.