New Dundee research centre to focus on psychoactive substances

Part of the new Centre for Excellence in New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) Research has been created at the University of Dundee to help tackle the emerging epidemic of highly addictive new drugs.

The Dundee research facility is an arm of a wider initiative with the Scottish Police Authority Forensic Services and the Scottish Government, that greatly expands the drugs and NPS forensic capability in Scotland.

This wider initiative also involves a range of organisations including Police Scotland, NHS Scotland, first responders, policy makers, voluntary organisations and other academic institutions creating a National consortium to work together to address the NPS challenges Scotland faces in a proactive manner.

The Centre for Excellence in NPS Research at Dundee is a collaboration between leading scientists from across the University, led by Professor Niamh NicDaeid and Dr Craig McKenzie of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) in the School of Science and Engineering. Scientists from the Drug Discovery Unit in the School of Life Sciences and Neuroscience in the School of Medicine are also lending their expertise.

Professor NicDaeid said, “The University of Dundee is uniquely well placed to offer the combined expertise to help tackle the very serious societal issue of new and emerging drugs, working in partnership with our frontline forensic science colleagues.

“NPS are often referred to incorrectly as `legal highs’ – many of these drugs have actually been controlled under UK drugs legislation in recent years. However, there are constantly emerging new drugs, many of them highly addictive and causing significant problems not just in the UK but in many countries around the world.

“We need to do more to understand the nature of these drugs, identify the threats posed by new drugs, and work across services to tackle the challenges they present.”

More than 600 different NPS have been recorded in Europe since 2008. Recent media attention has highlighted two emerging and potential drug threats: ‘Spice’, a product containing a variety of potent synthetic cannabinoids; and fentanyls, a group of potent synthetic opioids encountered on their own or mixed with drugs such as heroin, which have contributed to the opioid overdose epidemic in North America.

In May 2016, the supply and production of NPS not already covered by legislation became illegal in the UK under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.