Although the drug strategy adopted by the Hungarian government in 2013 aimed to make the country drug-free by 2020, the (not so) new synthetic drugs still rule the country. After the municipal elections, there is some hope that harm reduction can return to Budapest.

Illicit drug markets have been behaving strangely in Hungary for the last ten years. The decline of Ecstasy and the boom of new synthetic drugs was happening all across Europe after 2009 – but what made this small Central European country peculiar was the almost total collapse of the heroin and amphetamine markets, replaced by new stimulants. A similar trend could only be observed in Romania (where it seems heroin is now back, unlike in Hungary). Despite (or partly due to?) all efforts of law makers to ban new substances as soon as possible, the market for designer drugs has been stabilising.

There are two types of these drugs: synthetic cannabinoid agonists, which are dubbed as “herbal” or “bio” by Hungarian users, and cathinones, dubbed as “crystal” on the street. Almost every year a new substance comes to dominate the designer market. This year the dominant stimulant was ethyl-hexedrone (replacing pentedrone) and the dominant synthetic cannabinoid agonist was 5F-MDMB-PINACA (replacing ADB-FUBINACA). God knows what comes next year but we can be almost sure the designers will throw something new into the market.

There are some signs (police seizures for example) that the designer market boom peaked around 2014, and that its rise is now somewhat slower, or even stagnating. But there is no chance that they will be gone any time soon. According to the latest epidemiological study among the adult population, the use of “herbal” is the most prevalent among illicit substances. That is if we trust the results – it is very hard to make accurate estimations of illicit drug use trends in Hungary due to the restrictive and stigmatising political environment.