15 May 2014

The third international conference on novel psychoactive substances takes place this week (15-16 May) in Rome, Italy and is co-organised by the University of Hertfordshire, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), Sapienza University of Rome and University of Chieti-Pescara. It will be attended by over 300 participants from 32 countries.

Global public health challenges

Over the last 10 years, many novel (or new) psychoactive drugs (NPS) have become available.  These are advertised via the Internet as being safer and legal alternatives to illicit drugs.  However, information on their effects is minimal or inaccurate.  They can be just as harmful and addictive as illegal drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy or ketamine. The regular development of new NPS, combined with the internet's ability to spread information quickly, presents a number of challenges for public health across the globe. 

Young people most at risk

Dr Ornella Corazza, Academic Lead at the Dept of Postgraduate Medicine at the University of Hertfordshire, said:  "These drugs appear very quickly on the drug market in ever more sophisticated forms and may well have widespread and long-term effects on users' health.  The products are just a 'click away' from our homes and thus potentially available to everyone, especially young people who are amongst the most at risk." 

This conference, the third in a series (Budapest 2012 and Swansea 2013), aims to increase knowledge and understanding about the nature and the effects of NPS as well as promote innovative solutions in the field. 

Many of the new psychoactive substances are research chemicals, often waste products from drug research. They are produced mainly in Asian countries and usually on a large scale. Until now, little to nothing has been known about their possible effects, interactions and health risks.

European research projects

The ReDNet and previous Psychonaut research projects, headed by the University of Hertfordshire and funded by the European Commission, have improved intelligence and data on the availability and misuse of over 700 new psychoactive substances.

Dr Corazza continued: "We currently provide evidence-based information on new psychoactive substances and services to vulnerable individuals, health and other professionals, policy makers and regulatory authorities in over 30 countries. This has increased awareness of risks, health prevention initiatives, policies and treatment provision in a rather unique way.

"So far in 2013, more than one new substance has been reported every week.  It is a challenge that needs rapid and innovative responses."

For further information on the conference, please visit the conference website at http://www.novelpsychoactivesubstances.org/