European Drugs and Addiction library

New psychoactive substances: Current health-related practices and challenges in responding to use and harms in Europe

Summary: 

This scoping study was based on a targeted multi-source data collection exercise focusing on the provision of health and drug interventions associated with NPS use and harms, in selected intervention settings across Europe.

Abstract

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Background
The availability of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in Europe has rapidly increased over the last decade. Although prevalence levels of NPS use remain low in the general European population, there are serious concerns associated with more problematic forms of use and harms in particular populations and settings. It has thus become a priority to formulate and implement effective public health responses. However, considerable knowledge gaps remain on current practices as well as on the challenges and needs of European health professionals who are responding to use and harms caused by these substances. The aim of this study was to explore current health responses to NPS, and highlight key issues in order to inform planning and implementation of adequate responses.
Methods
This scoping study was based on a targeted multi-source data collection exercise focusing on the provision of health and drug interventions associated with NPS use and harms, in selected intervention settings across Europe.
Results
Findings revealed that in the absence of specific evidence, health professionals across most intervention settings rely primarily on acquired expertise with traditional drugs when addressing NPS-related harms. This study also identified a gap in the availability and access to timely and reliable information on NPS to users and health professionals. Health professionals in sexual health settings and custodial settings in contact with certain risk groups reported particular challenges in responding to NPS-related harms.
Conclusion
Immediate investments are required in expanding substance identification capabilities, competence building among professionals and dissemination of risk information among relevant stakeholders. The risks of neglecting under-served risk populations and failure to address the information needs of health professionals and users on NPS harms in a context of rapid changing drug markets in Europe may have unforeseeable consequences at societal level.