‘Stronger, purer and lots of them’: UN laboratory chief tells ITV News illegal drugs are spreading worldwide

ITV News has been given exclusive access to the United Nations’ library for narcotics in Austria.

Every single new drug found across the world eventually finds its way here in Vienna.

Officials would have hoped there would be no need for this when making an ambitious target to eliminate or reduce drug demand and supply by 2019.

But the number of drugs worldwide has spiralled out of control and this target was shelved last week.

Justice Tettey, the Chief of the UNODC laboratory, told ITV News illegal substances have got "stronger, purer and there’s lots and lots of them".

He said: "In 2008, when we started monitoring there were less than 200 substances worldwide. Today, we have about 900 substances from 110 countries."

With substances readily available and stronger than ever, overdoses are commonplace in England and Wales compared to other European countries.

In 2017, England and Wales had the highest rate of fatal drug overdoses in Europe.

Some are now looking to Portugal where drug use was decriminalised in 2001.

Around 3.8 people per million died from an overdose there in 2017, compared to 43.7 per million in England and Wales.

"I don’t see these as statistics. I can recall finding the dead bodies,” Ron Hogg, the Durham Police and Crime Commissioner, told ITV News.

Mr Hogg, a police officer for 30 years, has sought not to apply the full force of the law to people who have been caught with drugs in the area and instead put them into treatment centres.

"What we do need in the UK is a serious discussion about whether or not we legalise the illicit drugs we have at the moment," he said.

"It may be a huge mistake, but can you explain to me why we have a drug-induced death rate 27 times higher in north east England compared to Portugal? We’re making a mistake now and we need to rectify that."

The Home Office Serious Violence Strategy has credited the illicit drugs market as a factor behind the spike in violent attacks.

Suzanne Sharkey, a former undercover drugs police officer and recovering addict, told ITV News it is a trend which is likely to continue.

"There are more drugs available now, they’re cheaper, there’s more variety, the supply chain is just as strong as it ever was," she said.

The government supports some rehabilitation programmes for drug users but does favour full decriminalisation or legalisation of illegal substances.

With a high number of addicts dying and increasing violence of the trade, how the UK polices narcotics now faces fresh scrutiny.