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High Prevalence of New Psychoactive Substance Found in Hair Testing

High Prevalence of New Psychoactive Substance Found in Hair Testing
Author Information (click to view)

New York University


New York University (click to view)

New York University

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Over a fourth of the eighty samples tested positive for new psychoactive substances.

In the last decade hundreds of new psychoactive substances (NPS) have emerged in the drug market, taking advantage of the delay occurring between their introduction into the market and their legal ban. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) NPS describes a recently emerged drug that may pose a public health threat. The DEA issues a quarterly Emerging Threat Report, which catalogues the newest identified NPS.

Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, a New York University researcher, has been researching incidental and intentional use of NPS by young adults. His current line of inquiry has focused on survey methods, qualitative interviews, and hair sampling to ascertain frequency and type of NPS use by nightclub-goers — a demographic which traditionally has a relaxed view towards recreational drug experimentation and use.

NPS are common adulterants in drugs such as ecstasy (MDMA), which has seen an increase in popularity since it became marketed as “Molly”. Ironically, “Molly” connotes a product that is pure MDMA. In a related study, Palamar and his team found that four out of ten nightclub/festival attendees who used ecstasy or “Molly” tested positive for “bath salts” despite reporting no use.

Related: Self-reported use of novel psychoactive substances among attendees of electronic dance music venues.

In their current study, “Hair Testing for Drugs of Abuse and New Psychoactive Substances in a High-Risk Population,” Dr. Alberto Salomone, an affiliated researcher at the Centro Regionale Antidoping e di Tossicologia “A. Bertinaria”, Orbassano, Turin, Italy and Dr. Palamar, affiliated with NYU’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR), collected hair samples from 80 young adults outside of New York City nightclubs and dance festivals, from July through September of 2015. Hair samples from high-risk nightclub and dance music attendees were tested for 82 drugs and metabolites (including NPS) using ultra-high performance liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry.

Of the eighty samples, twenty-six tested positive for at least one NPS–the most common being a “bath salt” (synthetic cathinone) called butylone (present in twenty-five samples). The “bath salts” methylone and even alpha-PVP (a.k.a.: “Flakka”) were also detected. The researchers find the presence of Flakka alarming as this drug has been associated with many episodes of erratic behavior and even death in Florida. Other new drugs detected included new stimulants called 4-FA and 5/6-APB.

Read the full press release here.

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