National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) Weekly Briefing


Increase in fatal drug overdoses across U.S. driven by synthetic opioids before and during COVID-19 pandemic 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an official Health Advisory yesterday regarding substantial increases in drug overdose deaths in the U.S. The most recent provisional data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) indicate that approximately 81,230 fatal drug overdoses occurred in the 12-months ending in May 2020––the largest number of drug overdoses for a 12-month period ever recorded. According to the CDC, the increases in drug overdose deaths appear to have "accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Synthetic opioids, primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl, have been found to be the primary driver of the increases in overdose deaths, although increases were also found for deaths involving cocaine and psychostimulants such as methamphetamine. The advisory, which also includes recommendations for public health departments, healthcare professionals, and other involved parties, can be found here. 

Shifts in drug use behavior among electronic dance music partygoers in New York during COVID-19 social distancing 

NDEWS Co-Investigator Dr. Joseph Palamar and collaborators assessed substance use among EDM partygoers in New York during COVID-19. Participants from the sample tended to reduce drug use during COVID-19-related social distancing. Some participants reported increased frequency of use of cocaine, ecstasy, and LSD, though findings overall suggest that the majority of those reporting recent drug use decreased frequency of use of these three drugs during social distancing. Read the full study here 

NDEWS COVID-19 study progress as of 12/18/2020

NDEWS is conducting ongoing interviews with three key informant groups––funeral directors, emergency responders, and syringe exchange programs––across all 18 sentinel sites to understand the national and regional impact of COVID-19 on drug use, drug-related mortality, and health services. To date, NDEWS has completed 93 baseline interviews and 27 follow-up interviews with key informants across 17 sentinel sites.

In their baseline interviews, among other questions, key informants reported on their experiences regarding the number of decedents who died of a drug overdose (funeral directors), the number of fatal and non-fatal overdose calls (EMS personnel), and clients served (syringe exchange programs) in the past 30 days. For fatal and non-fatal overdoses, respondents also quantified which drug(s) were involved. Below are preliminary data collected from baseline interviews to date.

Stay tuned: Additional findings will be rapidly disseminated to the scientific community and public, in addition to peer-reviewed publications. Read more about the supplement here.


New psychoactive substances: Global markets, global threats and the COVID-19 pandemic — an update from the EU Early Warning System

A new report was recently released on new psychoactive substances (NPS) identified by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). By October 31, 2020, the EMCDDA was monitoring more than 820 new psychoactive substances that had appeared on Europe’s drug market since surveillance began in 1997. This included 53 substances that received notifications for the first time in 2019 and 38 substances that had received notifications in 2020 (up to the end of October). This represents a decrease from the 100 NPS introduced to the European market each year between 2014 and 2015. The full report is here.

Announcement of newly identified synthetic cannabinoid 4-CN-AMB-BUTINACA 

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in collaboration with the University of California San Francisco Clinical Toxicology and Environmental Biomonitoring Laboratory, has identified a new synthetic cannabinoid, 4-CN-AMB-BUTINACA (4-CYANO-AMB-BUTINACA) in urine samples submitted to the NPS surveillance program. The announcement is here.

NPS Discovery announces three new identifications in the U.S.: fluorofentanylchlorofentanyl, and bromofentanyl 

NPS Discovery released an alert yesterday regarding the identification of three new NPS in the U.S. All three are classified as fentanyl analogs and novel opioids. Read the published monographs for fluorofentanylchlorofentanyl, and bromofentanyl here. 


Trends in use and perceptions of nicotine vaping among U.S. youth from 2017 to 2020 

New 2020 data from the Monitoring the Future study, recently published in JAMAfound that U.S. adolescent vaping of nicotine increased at a record pace from 2017 to 2019, prompting new national policies to reduce access to flavors of vaping products preferred by youth. The report presents nationally representative estimates of recent trends in adolescent nicotine vaping, perceived risk of harm from vaping, accessibility of vaping materials, as well as trends in use of specific vaping brands and flavors. Results show that adolescent use of JUUL subsequently dropped dramatically: in just one year, daily JUUL use (defined as using JUUL on 20 or more days in the past 30 days) dropped three-fold from 6% to 2%. The results for this individual company are consistent with the strategy that restrictions on flavors can help lead to reductions in adolescent vaping. The full study is here 

Fentanyl and fentanyl analogs in the illicit stimulant supply: Results from U.S. drug seizure data, 2011–2016  

study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence analyzed serial cross-sectional data from the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) collected between January 2011 and December 2016. Researchers found that the presence of fentanyl in the stimulant supply increased significantly between 2011 and 2016. National overdose mortality co-involving stimulants and synthetic opioids rose more than 30% from 2016 to 2017 across all age and sex groups. Read the full study here 

Emergency department patients with untreated opioid use disorder: A comparison of those seeking versus not seeking referral to substance use treatment 

Another Drug and Alcohol Dependence study found that most patients with untreated opioid use disorder (OUD) seen in the emergency department (ED) are not there to seek a referral to substance use treatment. Those seeking a referral to substance use treatment were less likely to have a urine toxicology test positive for amphetamines/methamphetamines and be white. Those seeking a referral to substance use treatment were more likely to have urine toxicology testing positive for cocaine. Read the full study here 


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

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