Pubdate: Fri, 18 Mar 2016
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2016 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Cahal Milmo


Samples Collected at Nightclubs Can Provide Data on Which Substances 
Are Being Used and Where

For decades, the war on drugs has been fought on fronts from the 
jungles of Latin America to the classroom. But now the struggle to 
understand the use of illegal substances has reached a new low - the 
nation's urinals.

Scientists in charge of tracking drug use across Europe, in 
particular the booming use of so-called "legal highs", have put 
forward proposals to use samples from urinals in locations such as 
nightclubs and music festivals to try to work out which illicit 
substances are being consumed.

A technique that looks for minute traces of established recreational 
drugs in wastewater taken from the sewage system has been developed 
to gauge the level of use of better-known narcotics, such as cocaine 
or cannabis, in Britain and elsewhere.

But research published by the European Union body that monitors 
trends in drug consumption has found that tracking the use of "legal 
highs" - synthetic substances whose chemical formulae have been 
tweaked to avoid classification as banned substances - requires a 
more targeted sampling technique.

A report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug 
Addiction said the best way to track the popularity of "new 
psychoactive substances" was to collect samples from areas in which 
their use might be "expected", such as nightclubs and music 
festivals. The body now wants routine sampling from urinals to be 
considered as part of its early-warning system for drug use across Europe.

Legal highs have risen rapidly in popularity in recent years with the 
authorities playing catch-up, as shady chemists produce a steady 
stream of NPS to be marketed in shops and on websites before they are 
formally banned.

But despite rising demand, NPS still represent only a small 
proportion of overall drug use and their shifting formulae mean 
samples from wastewater are too dilute to trace and judge which 
products are in use.

Liesbeth Vandam, a scientific analyst with EMCDDA, told The 
Independent: "The market is challenging for a number of reasons: the 
increasing number of NPS entering the market, the rapidity of their 
appearance and the fact that many users are often unaware of the 
actual substances they are using.

"The report shows that samples from pooled urine collected at 
nightclubs and music festivals can provide timely data on which new 
psychoactive substances are being used and where."

The recommendation by Norwegian researchers follows a study in London 
that took samples from 12 temporary weekend urinals set up in the 
West End. The project, led by Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust, found 
traces of six legal highs and seven established recreational drugs, 
including ketamine and Ecstasy.

The move towards urine-sampling comes as Britain prepares to brings 
into force a new law that seeks to ban NPS in their entirety for the 
first time. The Psychoactive Substances Act, which comes into effect 
on 6 April, seeks to close the loophole exploited by legal highs by 
banning any substance used to get high except nicotine, alcohol, 
caffeine and medications.
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