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Drug checking to improve monitoring of new psychoactive substances in Australia

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Drug checking may need to play a part in future public health interventions

As has been reported previously in the Journal,1 novel psychoactive stimulant drugs are now increasingly prevalent in patients presenting to hospital emergency departments. A further cluster of 11 patients showing confusing hallmarks of sympathomimetic poisoning but no identifiable substance presented to St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney over a public holiday weekend in April 2015. Also, the start to the 2015–2016 summer festival season has included multiple deaths and hospitalisations following drug use at festivals, leading to calls for novel actions to protect public health.2 Here, we take the opportunity to describe a method of harm minimisation that has been deployed in Europe and could potentially be deployed locally to tackle this problem.

Monitoring new psychoactive substances

New psychoactive substances (NPS) are emerging rapidly into the market, with more than 100 identified in the past year by European monitoring systems.3 Existing psychoactive drug monitoring systems have limited capacity to identify NPS. Their limitations are detailed as follows:

  • self-reports (eg, household surveys and regular interviews with sentinel groups, as reviewed by Burns et al4) can identify…