In recent years the world has witnessed a decline in the use of ‘traditional’ drugs such as heroin and cocaine, mirrored by an increase in the use of synthetic ‘designer’ drugs, as recently confirmed in the 2011 UN global drug report.
Designer drugs are synthesised purely with the end user in mind, providing them with a psychoactive experience, sometimes by chemically altering existing illegal drugs to provide the same effect whilst sidestepping drug laws. Recent ‘legal highs’ such as mephedrone (meow meow) and naphyrone (NRG1) are prime examples of this.
The increase in usage may well be due to an increase in choice. In 2010 the EU identified 41 completely new psychoactive substances, twice as many as the previous year, with 8% of UK young people saying they have used them.
Requirements for the detection of these new designer drugs as part of a workplace testing programme are increasing too, perhaps in response to them being taken as replacements to their better known equivalents.
Fortunately, scientists are already working on methods to test these designer drugs. Along with other leading thinkers from Kings College London, two of Concateno’s senior scientists have undertaken research into developing new methods of detecting synthetic drugs in urine.
Their study addresses the issue that current methods have of failing to detect a number of emerging designer drugs by using a new multi-analyte qualitative screening method. Similar research last year led to Concateno developing methods for testing mephedrone across several sample types as it began to feature in substance misuse trends.
In the context of the rising number of new substances research like this plays a key role in monitoring and identifying current drug use.