A new centre for excellence has been created to help tackle the emerging threat posed by so-called “legal highs”.
Dundee University has created a Centre for Excellence in new psychoactive substances (NPS) research, which will work with police forensics officers and the Scottish Government to help identify the increasing numbers of being produced.
New psychoactive substances, often “incorrectly” labelled as legal-highs, is a term referring to addictive drugs which alter a user’s state of mind, usually with long-term harmful effects.
More than 600 different substances have been identified in Europe since 2008, with particular focus being paid attention to “Spice” and Fentanyls.
Spice is a “constantly evolving” substance produced from man-made cannabinoids, and Fentanyls are a group of potent man-made opiods either taken on their own or mixed with heroin.
Fentanyls are believed to be responsible for a spate of heroin-induced overdoses in the US and Canada.
The centre for excellence will also collaborate with other agencies including NHS Scotland, voluntary organisations and other academic institutions to proactively tackle new psychoactive abuse, identify harmful drugs, and create a national consortium.
Professor Niamh NicDaeid will lead the research team, with support from Dr Craig McKenzie of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification.
Professor NicDaeid said work needed to be carried out to further understand the nature of these new psychoactive substances, as well as any potential harm they could incur.
She said: “The university 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 front-line 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.”
Dr McKenzie said: “The issues of NPS and other emerging drug threats are complex but it is clear many of these drugs can be extremely addictive and harmful.
“Our centre will support meaningful, targeted research to increase our understanding of such substances, help to reduce harm and support front-line services.”
Westminster enacted legislation in May 2016, making it illegal to produce and supply new psychoactive substances not already outlawed.