Emerging topics – new psychoactive substances

Emerging topics – new psychoactive substances

A new psychoactive substance (or NPS) is a narcotic or psychotropic drug that is not controlled by existing international conventions but that may pose a significant public health threat.

What works?

New psychoactive substances are an emerging topic. Research is ongoing in this area and we currently lack evidence on what works best.

  • Generally, prevention interventions which stress skills and coping strategies are effective, independently of the substance concerned
  • Harm reduction strategies in nightlife settings which have proved to be effective for alcohol may also be effective for new psychoactive substances

What's unclear?

Many research gaps still need to be filled in order to inform future policy responses to new psychoactive substances (Ferri et al., 2014):

  • A comprehensive insight on the scale and patterns of new psychoactive substance use
  • A better understanding of the new psychoactive substances market
  • Research into the short- and long-term consequences of new psychoactive substance use
  • Evidence of specific and/or appropriate treatment options for new psychoactive substance users
  • Outcome evaluations of current interventions and consideration of possible new approaches

What doesn't work?

  • New psychoactive substances are an emerging topic. Research is ongoing in this area and we currently lack evidence on what works best.

What can we do in the meantime?

Until today, at both European and international level countries have responded to the problem through consumer protection and law enforcement measures and namely with a range of different innovative legal responses.

Demand reduction initiatives are currently being implemented in Europe (e.g. specialist clinics for users of club drugs in the UK), yet we will need to wait for outcome evaluations of such initiatives before promoting them as European best practice. Standards for drug prevention interventions in recreational settings already exist and can be used as a reference point for new psychoactive substance prevention programmes.

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