European Drug Report 2017

Drug-related harms and responses

New drugs: developing response skills

The harms associated with new drugs bring a new set of challenges to frontline responders. A recent EMCDDA analysis found that European health professionals in various settings (treatment, prevention and harm reduction) rely predominantly on professional experience acquired in response to established illicit drugs and on the interventions used in that context. These interventions include dissemination of educational material, provision of sterile injecting equipment or symptomatic management of acute emergency cases. Often, evidence-based interventions may be adjusted to account for specific toxicities, to reflect socio-cultural characteristics of risk groups (e.g. party-goers, men who have sex with men) or respond to particular risk behaviours (e.g. increased access to syringes to respond to high injecting frequency) associated with new psychoactive substances. A need for professional training, guidance and competence building activities on responding to new drugs was also highlighted in the analysis.

Delivering interventions targeting hard-to-reach drug-using populations experiencing significant harms related to new psychoactive substances, such as men who have sex with men, homeless people and prison inmates is a particular challenge. In some countries, increased use of synthetic cannabinoids among prisoners has caused concern due to the impact on mental health, the strong withdrawal effects and increasing levels of associated violence. Multidisciplinary responses and collaborations involving a range of health providers across intervention settings (e.g. sexual health clinics or custodial settings and drug treatment centres) appear to be an important feature of adequate health responses to harms related to use of new psychoactive substances in Europe.