National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) Weekly Briefing

Issue 2: September 4, 2020


European Union announces ban on isotonitazene based on EMCDDA risk assessment

The European Union Commission announced a ban today on the synthetic opioid isotonitazene based on a risk assessment conducted by the EU's drug agency, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). Two deaths have already been associated with isotonitazene in the EU, and an additional 21 deaths have been reported in the US and Canada. The Agency's initial report and technical report are available online.

On Aug. 20, the DEA announced the temporary listing of isotonitazene in schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. NPS Discovery, a program developed by the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education (CFSRE) in collaboration with NMS Labs, published a monograph and a public alert concerning isotonitazene in Nov. 2019.

Evaluating trends in NPS using a sentinel population of electronic dance music (EDM) festival attendees

A new paper by NDEWS Scientific Advisory Group Member Dr. Barry Logan and colleagues recently published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology found that EDM festivals remain a valuable population for studying trends regarding the use of NPS and stimulants.

Their four-year consecutive study at three U.S. EDM festival locations using oral fluid samples returned notable findings, such as the disappearance of alpha-PVP since 2014, and a positive trend in MDMA consumption between 2014 and 2017. The authors note that by using this approach to monitoring drug trends, they have found that "peak positivity of novel stimulants usually is within a year of their first detection." Read the full paper here.

These results support findings published this past July by NDEWS Co-Investigator and Scientific Advisory Group Chair Dr. Joseph Palamar, who found declining unintentional exposure to synthetic cathinones in EDM party attendees by testing hair samples.


New CDC report: Characteristics of 2019 drug overdose deaths involving opioids and stimulants in 24 states and the District of Columbia

According to a new MMWR from the CDC, provisional data indicate that drug overdose deaths increased in 2019. Illegally manufactured fentanyl (IMF), heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine were involved in 83.8% of overdose deaths from Jan–Jun 2019. Eighty percent of overdose deaths involved one or more opioids.

The report includes possible intervention strategies targeting overdose risk factors. Interventions should address both the lethality of the drugs being used and also aim to prevent the initiation of prescription drug misuse as well as illicit drug use. Read the full report here.

Treatment of kratom withdrawal and dependence with buprenorphine/naloxone: A case series and systematic literature review

A recently published case report outlines a correlation between the amount of kratom used and the amount of buprenorphine/naloxone required for opioid agonist therapy. Kratom is a “legal high” with rising use among the general population: one recent study found 6.1% had used kratom in their lifetime. 

Two million Americans have been diagnosed with opioid use disorder (OUD), and some have turned to kratom as a self-treatment. This could be problematic, due to kratom's possibility of paradoxically causing physical dependence and OUD. Read the full report here.


New research from the AI Institute at the University of South Carolina (AIISC): Social media analysis to understand the impact of COVID-19-related events on mental health and addiction

Since mid-March, NDEWS Scientific Advisory Group Member Dr. Amit Sheth and his group at AIISC have been using artificial intelligence techniques to collect and analyze over 800 million tweets on Twitter to understand COVID-19's impact on depression, anxiety, and addiction. Read more in their recent news coverage and on their website

Largest darknet drug marketplace, Empire Market, goes offline in suspected "exit scam"

Empire Market, a popular darknet marketplace for buying and selling drugs, has been offline since late August. According to Vice, silence surrounding the closure from site owners suggests an "exit scam," where the administrators of a darknet market suddenly shut down the site and exit with vendors' and users' money. Read more news coverage here.

Marijuana use is on the rise in older adults, according to new study

According to a new study, marijuana use is on the rise among baby boomers. Men aged 60 to 64 reported the highest rate of marijuana use: 12.6% in 2018, a drastic increase from 2016’s 8.9%. Additionally, the use of marijuana by men aged 65 to 69 nearly doubled, rising from 4.3 percent to 8.2 percent. This trend may reflect a national change in attitude towards cannabis. Read the full story here.


Upcoming webinar on global drug market shifts during the COVID-19 pandemic

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, a one-hour Drug Policy Alliance webinar will present preliminary findings from the COVID-19 edition of the Global Drug Survey. Questions were asked about changing drug use patterns, drug markets, and other drug-related trends. Researchers will also discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with online survey methods during a pandemic. Click here to register.

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