- New to Whom?


UNODC defines new psychoactive substancesor NPS as: “Substances of abuse, either in a pure form or a preparation, that are not controlled by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, but which may pose a public health threat” (UNODC, 2012). The harms of NPS are described as ‘multi-faceted’ and may present themselves as physical, mental and/or social harms, although few studies into the potential harms of NPS have been conducted. NPS are marketed as “designer drugs”, “legal highs”, “herbal highs”, “bath salts”, “and research chemicals”, “laboratory reagents”.

However, this definition puts the burden of proof determining ‘NPS status’ solely on the substance’s legal status, while very different substances are classified as NPS, which, in structure and/or effect, are closely related to controlled substances, synthetic stimulants or Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) in particular. UNODC defines ATS as follows: “…a group of substances comprised of synthetic stimulants, including amphetamine, methamphetamine, methcathinone, and ecstasy-type substances (e.g. MDMA and its analogues).” But synthetic cathinones (such as methcathinone), for example, comprise of 25% of the global NPS market (UNODC, 2014). Likewise, the definition includes many substances related to MDMA in structure or effect. Furthermore, actual scheduling of psychoactive substances varies by country and changes constantly. Thus, the boundaries that determine whether a substance is a NPS are rather ambiguous.

Furthermore, as UNODC points out in the explanatory note to the 2014 Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment, “the term ‘new’ [psychoactive substance] does not necessarily refer to new inventions but to substances that have been recently become available.” This is where the confusion starts, as here NPS are equated with a linked concept that of new or emerging drug trends. But where NPS in most cases qualifies as a new drug trend, the reverse relationship is not necessarily true, as new drug trends (“that have been recently become available”) may well include substances which in some countries are completely new, but well known in others.

From the perspective of developing appropriate policy responses and, when needed, interventions, the actual scheduling status – NPS or controlled substance – seems less relevant to understanding the actual substance that may newly emerge in a community.

This project includes a practical example of the ambiguity in the definition of NPS described above. Praksis in Athens is confronted with the use of Sisa, homemade methamphetamine that is smoked by people whose main drug used to be heroin. This results in new set of (mental health and other) problems, untypical to the period before the emergence of sisa and is in need of appropriate responses. But Sananim, our Czech partner, has decades of experience with methamphetamine use, leaving ample opportunity for cross-partner knowledge diffusion.

Therefore, in this project the focus is on ‘new drug trends,’ which includes the emergent availability and use of substances new to a community, country or culture, independent of their legal status.


Practically, the study remains focused on the use of new drugs among PUDH, but we will interpret the definition of NPS in a broad sense to include new trends in the use of closely related drugs. In effect, the focus of the local RAR studies will be on NPS, as the (injecting) use of synthetic methcathinones is the main concern of the RARs in Romania, the Czech Republic and Poland. In Greece smoked homemade methamphetamine will be the focus of the RAR.


Jean-Paul Grund,
Principal Investigator
WS 1, 2 Leader





Defining NPS

New to Whom?

UNODC defines new psychoactive substancesor NPS as:... read more


Defining Target Groups

Defining the Project’s target audience or end beneficiaries comes with considerable difficulties. The official project title... read more





Project News

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Addictology, the Czech based journal for research into addiction, published a special issue on NPS related articles, including those with the outcomes of the NPS in Europe project.

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The NPS staff presented project outcomes at the International Harm Reduction Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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NPS Policy: Moving Forward
Leading European experts, including researchers, practitioners and policy makers will meet at a Seminar in Lisbon on the 26th of November to discuss the latest developments in the field of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS).

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The NPS in Europe project organises a training on new psychoactive substances (nps), 23 - 25 November 2015 in Lisbon, Portugal. The training is aimed at service provider and peers, supporting NPS users in Europe. The course will give an overview of relevant NPS substances, identify current patterns and develop effective harm reduction service responses.
read more..

Practical information...

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NPS in Europe

is launching a questionnaire on NPS use in all European countries.