National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) Weekly Briefing


Shifts in drug seizures in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic

NDEWS Co-Investigator Dr. Joseph Palamar, NDEWS Lead Investigator Dr. Linda Cottler, and Tom Carr, NDEWS Scientific Advisory Group member and director of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA), published a study this week in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Using drug seizure data from five HIDTAs, the study found an immediate decrease in marijuana and methamphetamine seizures at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then increases beginning in the summer of 2020 with some months exceeding the number (and weights) of seizures from the previous year. Read the full study here and the press release here.


NPS Discovery releases drug supply assessment for Q1, 2021

NPS Discovery published a new report this week featuring data from  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from November 2020 through February 2021. Researchers found that all purported heroin samples contained fentanyl cut with zylazine and that para-Fluorofentanyl adulteration is on the rise. They also found that many counterfeit pills and tablets contained various new psychoactive substances. Read the full report here.

NPS Discovery identifies synthetic cannabinoid ADB-4en-PINACA in the United States

NPS Discovery issued an alert regarding the first identification of ADB-4en-PINACA in the US this week. ADB-4en-PINACA, which is classified as a synthetic cannabinoid, is structurally similar to MDMB-4en-PINACA and ADB-PINACA. Read the full alert here.


DEA releases 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment

This week, the DEA released their 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA), a comprehensive assessment of the threat posed to the US by the trafficking and abuse of illegal drugs, the diversion and misuse of legal drugs, and the laundering of proceeds generated through illegal drug sales. The report covers 2019 and the first half of 2020. The NDTA notes that illicit fentanyl is one of the primary drugs fueling the epidemic of overdose deaths in the US, while heroin and prescription opioids remain significant challenges to public health and law enforcement. Read the full NDTA here.

An outbreak of new benzodiazepines in the unregulated drug supply: Preliminary results from a community drug checking program using point-of-care and confirmatory methods

A study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy found a new outbreak of benzodiazepine NPS from a community drug checking program in Vancouver. Of 159 samples, 24 (15.1%) contained at least one benzodiazepine NPS, including etizolam, flubromazolam, flualprazolam, and flubromazepam. Fatal overdoses due to NPS benzodiazepines are more likely to occur because naloxone does not reverse the effects. Read the full study here.

Syringe distribution programs can improve public health during the opioid overdose crisis

A study published by The Pew Charitable Trusts this week examined syringe services programs (SSP) and state legislatures. The study found that SSPs play an important role in reducing the harms of injection drug use and engaging participants in treatment and other services for substance use disorders. The study recommends that to address the overdose crisis, state policymakers should allocate funding along the continuum of care, with SSPs as a key component. Read the full study here.

Supersized alcopop related calls in the National Poison Data System, 2010-2019

A study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence examined calls to US Poison Control Centers and found that between 2010 and 2019, poison control centers received 1,719 calls for exposures to supersized alcopops. Alcopops are single-serving high-alcohol-content beverages frequently consumed by underage drinkers. The study concluded that compared to other alcohol products, calls to US poison control centers for supersized alcopops disproportionately involved underage users. Read the full study here.

"Doctor and pharmacy shopping”: a fading signal for prescription opioid use monitoring?

A study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence this week examined “doctor shopping,” or patients with high multiple provider episodes (MPEs). The study found historically low levels and declining trends observed in opioid-related MPEs in the US. The study also found that in 2017, nearly one-fifth of the commercially insured enrollees identified as MPEs were individuals with cancer. Read the full study here.


Schedules of controlled substances: placement of brorphine and 10 fentanyl-related substances in Schedule I

The DEA has issued a temporary order regarding the placement of brorphine in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), effective March 1, 2021, until March 1, 2023. According to the NPS Discovery program, between June and July 2020, seven drug related deaths involving brorphine occurred. Read the temporary order published in the Federal Register here.

In addition to brorphine, the DEA has also placed 10 fentanyl-related substances in Schedule I. These 10 specific substances fall within the definition of fentanyl-related substances set forth in the February 6, 2018 temporary scheduling order. Through the Temporary Reauthorization and Study of the Emergency Scheduling of Fentanyl Analogues Act, which became law on February 6, 2020, Congress extended the temporary control of fentanyl-related substances until May 6, 2021. Read the order published in the Federal Register here.


NDEWS is currently recruiting for a NIDA T32 Postdoctoral Fellow, available immediately. Visit this link to apply.

Share your research, news, and events through our submission form

Share your comments on our newsletter through our feedback form

Follow NDEWS on Twitter: @NDEWSnews