Quick reference guide to new psychoactive substances

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has published a quick reference guide and an accompanying factsheet explaining what pharmacists need to know about new psychoactive substances.

Gino Martini, chief scientist for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society

A quick reference guide (QRG) to new psychoactive substances (NPS) has been published by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS). A shorter factsheet, which includes images of the most common NPSs, accompanies the QRG.  

The guide explains what pharmacists need to know about NPSs, including signs of intoxication and the classes of NPS associated with ‘high-risk’ use. Information on modes of action of the various NPSs, laws surrounding their production, possession and supply, and the risks associated with their use is also provided. 

The work was initiated by Jayne Lawrence, then Royal Pharmaceutical Society chief scientist, and Amira Guirguis, a pharmacist and researcher in the Psychopharmacology, Drug Misuse and Novel Psychoactive Substances Research unit at the University of Hertfordshire. A working group from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Pharmaceutical Science Expert Advisory Panel (PSEAP) was then established to produce the resources, comprised of Gillian Hawksworth, former president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society; Valerie Sillito, a community pharmacist and primary care pharmacist; Gino Martini, RPS chief scientist and Christine Bond, chair of the PSEAP, together with Lawrence, Colin Cable, RPS assistant chief scientist, and Guirguis, with Guirguis leading the resources’ development.

“There is a gap in knowledge in this area,” Guirguis said. “NPS are very complex and pose serious public health risks. They are associated with numerous challenges to policy makers, healthcare professionals and law enforcement.  

Pharmacists are well-positioned to provide advice, counselling and signposting information to NPS users, and so it is important to equip pharmacists with this information.”  

“Everyone has heard of ‘legal highs’ — which are in fact now ‘illegal highs’ — but are perhaps less aware of what they are, look like and the terminology or ‘street talk’ often used to describe NPSs”, Martini said. “Our aim with the guide and fact sheet is to provide pharmacists and healthcare professionals with the information and tools to help patients and their families who may well be exposed to these agents. 

“People believe that these NPS agents are safe. The fact is that these NPS agents, including nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas), are not safe and can harm people.”  

Both the NPS QRG and the factsheet can be accessed on the RPS website.  

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Quick reference guide to new psychoactive substances;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20204751

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