2. Global markets, glocal threats: Early warning, preparedness, and response to new psychoactive substances in Europe
The EU Early Warning System on new psychoactive substances (EWS) allows Europe to rapidly detect, assess, and respond to public health threats linked to new psychoactive substances (NPS).
Data from event-based surveillance, including law enforcement seizures and serious adverse events, linked to NPS as well as aggregated seizure data reported by 29 national early warning systems in Europe between 2005–2021 was analysed.
At the end of 2021, the EMCDDA was monitoring around 880 NPS, 52 of which were first reported in 2021. The number of NPS in circulation remains high, with 350–400 previously reported substances detected every year since 2015. In 2020, 21,200 seizures amounting to 5.1 tonnes of material were reported by the EU Member States. This is the highest quantity seized in a year; 70% of the material (3.3 tonnes) were cathinone powders, mostly N-ethylhexedrone, 3-MMC, and 3- CMC. The trend towards highly potent substances continues — especially synthetic cannabinoids, opioids, and benzodiazepines — which pose a greater risk of severe poisoning; the risk of ‘MACD’ events — misselling, adulteration, contamination, or dilution of drugs with highly potent or toxic substances — has also increased. The market has become highly dynamic and resilient making it difficult to disrupt — in part because of its strong links with the illicit drug markets.
Based on these results, this presentation discusses the development of the NPS phenomenon, the current situation in Europe, emerging threats, and how we need to adapt to strengthen early warning systems in a globalised world.