New scheme for reporting effects of new psychoactive substances

Public Health England (PHE) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) are piloting a new online system for reporting the effects of new psychoactive substances (NPS) and other illicit drugs in a similar way to how adverse effects of pharmaceutical drugs are reported through the Yellow Card Scheme.

The Report Illicit Drug Reactions (RIDR) online form is intended to be used by UK health professionals who come into contact with people who have developed acute or chronic problems with NPS, including those working in emergency departments, general practice, drug treatment services, sexual health services and mental health services. The reporting site is modelled on the Yellow Card Scheme website, but is separately branded because of the different nature of what is being reported. However, registered users of the Yellow Card Scheme site can log in with the same details to access all their incident reports in the same place.

NPS, formerly known as ‘legal highs’, are designed to replicate the effects of other ‘traditional’ illegal drugs, such as cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, 2.6% of young adults aged between 16 and 24 took an NPS in 2015/16. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that they were associated with 23 deaths in 2013 in England and Wales.

The production, distribution and supply of NPS was made a criminal offence in the UK in May 2016. However, their use continues to be a problem, particularly with increasing availability over the internet. The harms of these drugs are often poorly understood by frontline healthcare staff; new NPS with different chemical compositions are introduced frequently, and their adverse effects can therefore be very unpredictable. The aim of the new RIDR system is to help monitor these rapid changes, to gain more information on both the immediate and longer term harms of different types of NPS in order to improve clinical knowledge and provide specialist advice on how best to treat patients.

The RIDR website launched in March and the pilot scheme will initially run for 12 months. PHE has also set up a NPS clinical network to analyse data coming from RIDR and other drugs intelligence systems to identify harms, patterns and to agree appropriate clinical responses. The data will be evaluated by clinicians, other frontline experts and government policy makers.

To report a suspected harm with an illicit substance, visit: http://report-illicit-drug-reaction.phe.gov.uk. Suspected adverse reactions to licensed medicines, and interactions between licensed medicines and illicit drugs, should continue to be reported through the Yellow Card website at: www.mhra.gov.uk/yellowcard

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