Cross Party Working Group on New Psychoactive Substances

A report summarising the work of the New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)Cross Party Working Group and recommendations for further action.

3. Setting The Scene

3.1 The first theme of the CPWG focused on setting the scene to ensure members were apprised of the main issues and challenges NPS present. Members heard from experts from the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) and the Scottish Government. Members were encouraged to ask questions and were given the opportunity to shape the content and themes of future meetings.

Overview of New Psychoactive Substances

3.2 Katy MacLeod, National Training and Development Officer, SDF, provided an overview of NPS. This included what NPS are, what they look like, how they are taken, and where they can be purchased. Information was also provided on the populations that use NPS and some of the motivations for use.

3.3 Some of the harms associated with NPS use were also highlighted to members. Some drug users are known to inject NPS which can lead to risky behaviour, and cause severe skin irritation and wounds. There are also a range of clinical issues associated with NPS use including psychosis, showing that early intervention and harm reduction messages are key to reducing these risks.

Overview of the Evidence

3.4 Isla Wallace, Social Researcher, Scottish Government, presented an overview of the evidence base. This included a summary of the number of new NPS identified through European and UK Early Warning Systems, as well as data on the prevalence of NPS use in Scotland. This showed there has been an unprecedented increase in the number, type and availability of new psychoactive substances in Europe over the last five years, but only a very small number of these new substances have been identified in the UK. In addition, reported use in the general adult population in Scotland is relatively low compared with use of other illicit drugs. However, use in younger age groups and some sub-sections of the population are somewhat higher.

3.5 Some of the gaps in evidence relating to the prevalence and motivations for NPS use among vulnerable groups were also described. These included the extent of online purchasing of NPS and the acute and long term health harms of use. In addition, there are challenges in strengthening the evidence base due to the changing market, the multitude of NPS products, and the different definitions of NPS.

3.6 In terms of next steps, work is on-going to capitalise on existing data and information, carry out further research into motivations and harms amongst vulnerable groups, and to improve the collection and sharing of data on NPS.

Key Observations and Conclusions

3.7 The CPWG observed that the figures for drug-related deaths where NPS was the only substance implicated were relatively low. However, it was noted that the proportion of NPS recorded within toxicology has increased over time. This raises concerns about NPS use alongside other substances including alcohol.

3.8 There are limitations in the current available data, including challenges in detecting and attributing specific substances to a death. Gaps in knowledge, particularly around longer terms harms of NPS use amongst vulnerable groups make it important to keep this issue on the agenda. Evidence on why younger age groups in particular use NPS is needed.

3.9 Chem-sex is a term used to describe 'sex while using drugs' and is a growing concern as this can be associated with high risk sexual behaviour. Work is underway to address this issue. One of the key challenges is that those engaged in the chem-sex scene do not necessarily perceive themselves as 'illicit drug users' and do not necessarily want to be associated with traditional drug treatment or needle exchange services.


Email: Vicky Carmichael

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