THE Queensland government is launching a war on synthetic drugs, as the worldwide trade of "legal highs" booms.
But the crack-down on synthetics is bringing the definition of "legal high" into question, as research shows alcohol accounts for almost half of government-funded substance abuse treatment in Australia.
Under new laws, Queenslanders who use or traffic synthetic drugs to feel a "high" will soon be given the same legal treatment as those using or selling drugs currently classified as "illicit".
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie says synthetic drugs are marketed as a "legal high", misleading people into thinking they are a safe alternative.
Synthetics are drugs manufactured to have a similar pharmaceutical effect to other drugs, but are chemically different to illegal substances.
Mr Bleijie says the Queensland Government is making changes to the Drug Misuse Act in order to "capture all synthetic drugs that are 'intended' to have the same effect as a scheduled dangerous drug".
But it seems the definitions of "dangerous drug" and "legal high" is a little loose.
The latest research from the Australian Institute of Welfare suggests the "legal high" from alcohol is responsible for the majority of Australian substance abuse issues.
It reveals 47 per cent of drug treatments carried out between 2010-2011 were for problems primarily related to alcohol.
And in 62 per cent of treatments for other substances, alcohol was listed as the second "drug of concern" being used by the client or patient.
Dr Matthew Frei, Head of Clinical Services at Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, told academic publication The Conversation the alcohol industry was holding back necessary regulation.
"When considering drug problems, alcohol probably gets less exposure than illicit drugs, which are often considered the major drain on society's resources," he said.
"If you've got a health problem that's preventable, incredibly costly and damaging, then at the very least we should be very explicit about the risks and harms.
"At the moment those kind of initiatives are usually met with resistance, often framed around the people suggesting them being wowsers, fun police, depriving people of choice or being part of a nanny state."
"I think a lot of that is actually driven by the extraordinarily powerful vested interests that are part of the alcohol industry."
A record 57 new legal highs have been detected in Europe this year, with the region's drug monitors reporting the appearance of more than one new psychoactive drug on the market each week.
In the annual report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the rise of legal highs is being driven by online retailers and organised crime.
The drug agency reports almost 10 per cent of British 15 to 24-year-olds have used a "legal high" - most of which are designed to immitate the effects of cannabis or cocaine.
The Australian Drug Foundation says drug analogues and other synthetic drugs have been present in Australia and overseas since at least the mid-2000s.
They are typically marketed as 'legal highs' and used as substitutes for illicit drugs such as methylamphetamine and 3,4-methylenedioxymethylamphetamine (MDMA).
As many of these substances are new, there is limited research or knowledge about the short or long-term health consequences of use, the risk of dependence, possible adverse effects of use in combination with other drugs, or potential fatal dosage levels.
Does alcohol cause bigger health and social problems in QLD than illegal drugs?
This poll ended on 19 November 2012.
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
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