Tox Tuesday: Psychoactive substances, other drugs on the rise in Wales

A rising concern in many countries is the increased potency of opioids, as powerful drugs like fentanyl and its analog carfentanil kill unsuspecting drug users in ever-increasing numbers.

Now, reports show that in Wales, especially potent varieties of illegal psychoactive drugs are seeing an increased presence as well, while weaker drugs are disappearing from the landscape.

Overall, the diversity of these drugs is going down — people are seeking out fewer varieties. A survey of the drug scene showed that around 125 different drugs were identified in 2016 and 2017, a decrease of 23% from what was identified in the previous year.

However, experts say that instead of buying many different drugs, people are buying more of the dangerous, potent varieties. Public Health Wales says that both hospital admissions and deaths due to these “new psychoactive substances” (NPSs) have shot up. In Wales and England, 123 people died from NPS abuse in 2016.

NPSs include synthetic cannabis drugs, including those commonly known as Spice and Black Mamba. Most are made from chemicals created in Chinese labs, which are then mixed with herbs. All NPSs were banned in the United Kingdom in 2016.

The same survey that identified NPSs in Wales also noted an increase in samples of fentanyl and carfentanil, two extremely powerful opioids that are 100 and 10,000 times stronger than morphine, respectively. The rest of the United Kingdom has also noted greater increases of these two drugs, with 60 people dying from fentanyl overdoses in the early part of 2017.

Cocaine is another drug whose potency on the rise in the United Kingdom. It’s the most common drug found in Wales, and is more often found at higher and higher purities in the rest of the country — as high as 100%.

Overall, drug-related deaths in the United Kingdom hit record highs in 2016, with 3,744 recorded overdose deaths due to abuse of both illegal and legal drugs. More than half of those deaths involved an opioid.

Neogen offers forensic drug testing products that can screen over 300 drugs and metabolites in a wide range of forensic samples, including hair, blood, urine, oral fluid and others. For more information, visit toxicology.neogen.com/uk.

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