Legal loopholes allowing Chinese copycat drugs to be sold on the island could soon be closed as the government mulls legislative changes.

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici told this newspaper the problem of synthetic drugs and how they should be regulated was being looked into by a number of government departments.

He was reacting to a news item in The Sunday Times of Malta which said that as many as half of the narcotics confiscated by the police and the Customs in recent years had turned out to be Chinese copies of popular party drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine.

The drugs, known as synthetic cathinones and imported through the mail via websites, are made up of chemicals not listed as illegal. Yet, even if they are added to the list of controlled substances, producers are quick to alter the chemical structure making a new legal version.

READ: Drug scene's latest highs are made in China

Back in 2014, when the drugs had first started to get noticed by the authorities, forensic expert Mario Mifsud had warned that EU-wide efforts to regulate the chemicals were proving futile because new versions kept popping up.

It appears the problem is now being addressed. Dr Bonnici said that an inter-departmental team he had spearheaded was discussing the possibility of using umbrella legislation.

The government, he said, was considering reforms, which “whether through specific listings or through more generic definitions would ‘catch’ a spectrum of such drugs”.

Although the packages in which the substances are shipped to the island clearly state they are not for human consumption, they still make their way into clubs and parties.

The laboratory-made stimulants have been included in a group of drugs that concerned EU health officials called “new psychoactive substances” – unregulated mind-altering chemicals that are newly-available on the market. Their long-term effects are unknown.

Various websites are advertising delivery service of the chemicals to Malta, even offering shipping as much as a kilo of the substances in a matter of days.

The websites advertise party chemicals such as “white buzz”, “dancefloor cherries” and “crystal charge”.

“The new legal version for 2016: tests have shown to be very slightly stronger than previous version of this fantastic bath salt,” one of the websites says. “White Dreams is one of our Best Legal Highs Party Powders and is one of our all-time great highs,” it continues.

Chemist Godwin Sammut, who has been testing drugs seized by the authorities for 17 years, signalled a warning about the drugs, more commonly known as ‘bath salts’.

He said the equipment used to test drugs checked substances against chemical profiles, “a sort of fingerprint”.

While the so-called ‘bath salts’ were being sold as cocaine or ecstasy they did not match their ‘fingerprint’.

“At least 40-50 per cent of the drugs I see require extensive work to identify them because they do not match the fingerprints of more-commonly known drugs,” he said.

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