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Identifying New Illicit Drugs and Sounding the Alarm in Real Time

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2019
4 pages

This article from issue 281 of the NIJ Journal of April 2019, traces the history of the opioid crisis in the United States as background for discussing the current difficulty of identifying novel psychoactive substances (NPS) as they enter the United States, and current research related to this issue is discussed.


As pain-relief prescription opioid drugs have become more tightly controlled by the medical community and drug law enforcement measures, those who can no longer access prescription opioids have turned to novel psychoactive substances such as fentanyl or one of the several known fentanyl analogues being manufactured in overseas drug labs. Efforts of federal officers to identify these drugs, known as novel psychoactive substances (NPS) is a major issue in drug law enforcement, since current screening tests may fail to identify new NPS. Their effects, however, continue to be deadly as they are circulated in the illegal drug market and are consumed by users who have little knowledge of the danger. This article describes the work of Barry Logan, a chemist and forensic toxicologist. He is conducting research supported by a National Institute of Justice (NIJ) grant and a partnership project funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Logan has noted that the challenge confronting health and law enforcement practitioners is to rapidly respond to changes in the drug market and educate first responders, healthcare workers, drug-use communities, and those at risk of harm. The ability to identify rapidly the constant stream of new NPS as part of a real-time warning system is a critical need.

Date Published: April 1, 2019