Substance abuse disorders are a significantpart ofpsychiaticpractice and an increasing challenge for both psychiatrists and biomedical researchers. Increased use of psychomotor stimulants presents a serious public health problem and much clinical and basic research has been carried out to investigate the effects of these drugs. The problem of "designer drugs" in this category, ie., drugs that are clandestinely produced to circumvent existing drug regulations, was the subject of a symposium at the 14th Annual Meeting of the Canadian CoUlege of Neuropsychopharmacology held in Hamilton, Ontario, Cana4, June 2-5, 1991. Some of the papers presented at this symposium will appear in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience starting with this issue and are prefaced by the following Invited EditoriaL P. Hrdina, Editor INVITED EDITORIAL Canadian Designer Drugs Bruce A. Lodge Bureau of Drug Research, Health and Welfare Canada It would probably be helpful to begin with a definition The variety of substances presents a real challenge to the of the term "designer drugs." In this context, this is under- forensic analyst. In addition, there is the problem of trying stood to mean any substance in which the molecular structure to predict what might appear next. Such predictions can, is designed to circumvent existing drug regulations, and however, be rationally based on a thorough knowledge of which, by analogy to known, active compounds, might the relevant literature, coupled with intelligence work by reasonably be expected to have activity (presumably neuro- enforcement agencies. psychopharmacological) of its own. The largest group of designer substances which we have People are often surprised that Canadian designer drugs encountered recently is in the amphetamine category, some should be different from anyone else's, but it is a fact of of which, as far as is known, have not yet appeared in any life that we in Canada often see new, clandestinely produced other country. In particular, derivatives of 2,5-dimethoxy- drugs before they appear elsewhere. Indeed, this pheno- amphetamine have been synthesized; among these are the menon dates back at least to the time of paramethoxyam- 4-ethoxy-, the 4-chloro- and the 4-methylthio-derivatives. phetamine (PMA), which first appeared in Ontario in 1973, This last substance is a curiosity if only because of the shortly before its advent in the United States. inevitable odor problems associated with working with sul- The responsibility for administering Canada's drug laws phur-containing compounds in a clandestine situation. (It rests with the Ministry of National Health and Welfare should be remembered that clandestine laboratories are often (NHW). Within NHW, administrative functions are handled located in urban areas). by the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs (BDD). Furthermore, Prediction of the future possibilities in clandestine am- the analysis of all drug seizures is carried out in the phetamine chemistry is a limitless task. Some prime pros- laboratories of NHW. Such analyses are primarily the pects, whose identities are closely guarded secrets, have responsibility of the Field Operations Directorate (FOD), already been synthesized. Attempts at prediction do pay and are performed in their Regional Laboratories in Halifax, off; some years ago the standard for 4-ethoxy-amphetamine Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Samples from was being synthesized when the drug suddenly appeared the National Capital Region, Eastern Ontario and Western in a clandestine environment. Quebec are analyzed at the Bureau of Drug Research (BDR) One complete surprise was the appearance of the drug Laboratories in Ottawa. BDR also has responsibility for which came to be known as OP5 (1-[3-oxo-3-phenylpropyll- method development and provision of authenticated refer- 4-phenyl-4-propionoxypiperidine). This substance, with ence standards, as well as projects such as sample linking, 1300 times the analgesic activity of meperidine, would, in impurity profiling and international collaboration with the a dosage form, represent a major challenge to an analyst United Nations Division of Narcotic Drugs and national when it appeared for the first time on the street. Fortunately agencies in other countries. the product was intercepted before reaching this point. The Each summer for the past few years (up to 1990) a new real danger from such a compound would seem to come drug or class of drugs has appeared in a clandestine setting. from the possibility of producing, during the synthesis, a decomposition product of the tetrahydropyridine type, re- Address reprint requests to: Bruce A. Lodge, Ph.D., Head, Chemistry lated to the known, extremely toxic 1 -methyl-4-phenyltetra- Section, Pharmaceutical Chemistry Division, Bureau of Drug Research, hydropyridine (MPTP). It is interesting to note that recent Health Protection Branch, Tunney's Pasture, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. patents in this field of drugs are held by the U.S. Army, J Psychiatr Neurosci, VoL 16, No. 5, 1991 240 Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience Vol. 16, No. S, 1991 and that the only other group which appears to be active Little or nothing is known about the psychoactive prop- is in the Soviet Union. This class of drugs appear to be erties of most of these designer drugs. Discoveries in this of military interest not for its analgesic properties, but rather field usually arise from the fact that the clinical trials for because some members of the group are powerful disabling the drugs are, in effect, conducted on the street, with obvious agents. risk to the health and safety of the consumer. While some Abuse of the drug phencyclidine (PCP) is a regional contract research has been conducted on some of the problem in Canada in that 90% of samples submitted for designer drugs of particular interest to NHW, resources are analysis come from Quebec. A recent crop of designer extremely limited. Samples of some could, however, be made drugs from that province contained analogs of PCP, the available to researchers on a collaborative basis as part of methylphenyl- and benzyl-congeners. the effort to learn as much as possible about the toxicity and psychopharmacology of these drugs.
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