National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) Weekly Briefing


Correction to Issue 46 (07/30/2021)

Last week, we passed on to you a Washington/Baltimore HIDTA alert that stated that W-18 is about 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Research suggests this is not true. Scientists from the Designer Drug Research Unit (DDRU) laboratory at NIDA, in conjunction with several others, have found that "W-18 is devoid of opioid receptor activity and does not elicit opioid-like effects in vivo. At present, the mechanism of action for W-18 and its analogs is unknown."


Online surveillance of novel psychoactive substances (NPS): Monitoring Reddit discussions as a predictor of increased NPS-related exposures

A new NDEWS paper, in collaboration with NPS Discovery, is now available in International Journal of Drug Policy. Led by NDEWS Co-I Dr. Elan Barenholtz and Dr. Alex Krotulski from NPS Discovery, the study evaluated the utility of using drug-related Reddit forums as an early indicator of future trends in new psychoactive substance (NPS) exposures.

Eight NPS (carfentanil, U-47700, eutylone, flualprazolam, N-ethylpentylone, 5F-MDMB-PICA, isotonitazene, and brorphine) were selected to evaluate the relationship between Reddit mentions of drugs and their involvement in toxic exposures or overdoses from forensic investigations in the US. Out of the eight NPS, seven drugs (excluding 5F-MDMB-PICA) appeared in discussions on Reddit prior to their implication in exposures, and for most drugs (63%), a rise in Reddit mentions was soon followed by a corresponding rise in toxicology positivity. These results confirm that activity on drug-related Reddit forums can help predict changes in exposures associated with new or re-emerging NPS. Read the full study here.


Substance use patterns in 9-10 year olds: Baseline findings from the adolescent brain cognitive development (ABCD) study

Baseline findings on substance use patterns among 9- to 10-year-olds from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the US, were recently published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Two NDEWS investigators, Drs. Linda Cottler and Sara Jo Nixon, are MPIs of the UF ABCD site and are co-authors of the paper. At baseline, over two thirds of participants (68%) reported caffeine use and almost a quarter (23%) reported sipping alcohol, while use of other substances was rare. Total caffeine use and early alcohol sipping were found to be associated with demographic variables, externalizing symptoms, and parental history of alcohol use disorder. The authors concluded that variables linked with early alcohol sipping and caffeine use should be examined in future longitudinal analyses of substance use in this cohort. Read the full study here.

Effectiveness of policies for addressing the US opioid epidemic: A model-based analysis from the Stanford-Lancet Commission on the North American Opioid Crisis

In a paper recently published in The Lancet Regional Health – Americas, researchers from the Stanford-Lancet Commission on the North American Opioid Crisis used dynamic modeling techniques to examine the impact of various opioid-related policies on life years, quality-adjusted life years, and opioid-related deaths over the next five and ten years. Even with specific policy changes, high morbidity and mortality were projected, but specific interventions such as expanded naloxone availability and combined interventions were found to reduce projected overdose mortality. Read the full study here.


Changes in illicit drug use and markets with the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions: Findings from the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System, 2016–2020

A recent study published in Addiction examined changes in drug use and trends in price, availability, and perceived purity of drugs among people who regularly use ecstasy/MDMA and other stimulants in Australia. Following COVID-19 and related restrictions, most participants reported either no change or a reduction in their use of ecstasy/MDMA and other substances, mainly due to reduced socialization. The odds of perceiving ecstasy/MDMA capsules as high in purity and easy to obtain decreased compared to 2016–2019, as well as the odds of perceiving cocaine and methamphetamine as easy to obtain. Read the full study here.

Analysis of seasonal and regional influences on alcohol consumption shows an increase during the COVID-19 pandemic 

In a new study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers analyzed two million clinical urine samples from the Millennium Health database and found a small but significant increase in alcohol positivity during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to previous years. When accounting for seasonal trends, results showed that alcohol positivity peaked in 2016, then decreased in 2017 and stabilized before increasing again after the COVID-19 emergency declaration in March 2020. The predicted probability of detecting alcohol in a urine sample was highest for male patients, those between 45-64 years of age, and those from a primary care setting. Read the full study here. 


ONDCP plans to fund research to support evidence-based state drug policies and laws

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) announced on Monday an initiative to contribute $2.5 million toward establishing evidence-based state-level model legislation, which aims to expand access to harm reduction services, promote equity in access to treatment for underserved communities, and increase resources to reduce stigma for substance use disorders. Read the press release here.

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