New psychoactive substances (NPS), also known as “designer drugs,” are synthetic substances designed to mimic the effects of controlled substances and to circumvent international and domestic drug controls. NPS and NPS products are a dangerous mix of chemicals, the composition and potency of which can vary widely from product to product. Products are introduced and reintroduced into the market in quick succession to evade or hinder law enforcement efforts to address their manufacture and sale. Overdose deaths and severe health effects are associated with NPS use. One commonly used NPS, 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone, is a synthetic cathinone that affects the brain in a manner similar to cocaine, but is at least 10 times more powerful. In recent years, there has been a 95 percent increase in phone calls to poison control centers across the United States related to the use of synthetic drugs, with over 8,000 calls in 2015 alone related to NPS.
As of August 2016, the United Nations estimated there were over 700 identified NPS available on the global market. Manufactured in labs overseas, NPS are marketed in the United States over the Internet and frequently sold in convenience stores around the country.
Given the rapidity and ease with which NPS can be manufactured, control through traditional regulatory, legislative, and law enforcement responses is challenging and countries around the world are grappling with how best to reduce use and availability of these dangerous drugs.
Because NPS are manufactured outside the United States, Federal agencies are engaging with regional and international partners to reduce supply at the source. Additionally, Federal agencies are supporting investigations domestically and abroad; working with Congress to improve regulatory tools and schedule newly-identified NPS; and encouraging the chemical industry and corporate entities to monitor and track the manufacture of synthetic drugs and their precursor chemicals.
At the same time, Federal agencies are supporting critical research on NPS. This research can help inform decisions about drug scheduling, as well as prevention and public health responses, including the development of ultra-short acting antagonists that can be used in emergency departments to treat the toxic and sometimes deadly effects of NPS.
To learn more about NPS and the U.S. government’s response, please see the following resources: