In a move which will probably not surprise anyone, the UK government has formally stated that it will make ethylphenidate and its related compounds class B drugs. Ethylphenidate gained popularity both as a smart drug used by some students and as a recreational stimulant and is closely related to methylphenidate (ritalin) but has a reduced potency and shorter duration.
The ban follows the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), whose role is to perform detailed research into issues relating to drugs for the UK government so that it can make informed decisions about drug policy. The ACMD has done extensive research on ethylphenidate and its analogues, with multiple comments released about their prevalence and harms and on 10th April 2015 it recommended that ethylphenidate should be subject to a “Temporary Class Drug Order” (TCDO), which criminalises import and sale but not possession. The ACMD struggled to find detailed information about the group of compounds and remarked in June 2016 that the TCDO had been very successful in reducing use and that more time was needed for a good decision.
Their research continued until 10th March 2017, when they released their final report recommending the group of compounds should all become Class B substances. This was accompanied by one of their typically detailed research reports, again representing possibly the best collection of knowledge about the compounds that currently exists. The report includes detailed information about the drugs’ activity levels in the brain as well as details about the legal situations in other countries:
Ethylphenidate is controlled in China, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden and Turkey. It is also classified under analogue scheduling in the US and Australia.
As well as ethylphenidate, a number of less popular analogues were also covered, perhaps the most interesting being 4-fluoromethylphenidate which was reported to be more potent and be much less compulsive.
The change in the law will come into force on the 31st May and cover the substances listed below. Class B offences could result in up to 5 years for possession or up to 14 years for supply.
Following advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), the Home Office has moved to ban a range of designer sedatives including etizolam, which has gained wide popularity for self-medication of anxiety and the compound U-47700, an opioid which has frightened US media and displayed issues of chemical damage to tissues of very heavy users. You can see our test results for U-47700 here and here.
The ACMD’s role is to perform detailed research into issues relating to drugs for the UK government so that it can make informed decisions about drug policy. On 20 December 2016 it published two of its typically detailed overviews, one dedicated to U-47700 and one on the novel benzodiazepines. These detail various aspects of the drugs usage and distribution patterns and the research allow the ACMD to make recommendations on scheduling.
Although the novel substance market has been all but wiped out by the Psychoactive Substances Act, (which renders anything “psychoactive” illegal to sell or import) Police Scotland has reported that etizolam is being sold as “valium” by street dealers. Benzodiazepines may be used to self medicate anxiety disorders, or recreationally for relaxation and carry significant risk of addiction and dependence, with withdrawals for heavy users potentially being severe enough to be fatal. Police Scotland also reported that there had been an increase in deaths involving etizolam and an 8x increase in people found driving under the influence of the drug since 2015.
The Home Office decided to move directly to full scheduling instead of temporary scheduling as recommended by the ACMD, and on 3rd May 2017, the full legislation was published, to be enforced from 31st May 2017.
This means that etizolam is illegal in the UK as a class C drug with up to 2 years for possession, and U-47700 is illegal in the UK as a Class A drug with up to 7 years for possession.
In a change from constructing a time consuming “blanket ban”, the ACMD also recommended scheduling a long list of other compounds in the same class by their specific names, listed below: