The United States National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) bring together leading US, European and international experts this week to take stock of the global ‘new drugs’ phenomenon. In the framework of the 2012 NIDA International Forum, taking place in Palm Springs (CA) from 8–11 June (1), the organisations will co-host the Second interdisciplinary forum on new and emerging psychoactive substances gathering over 300 participants from 72 countries.

Building on the First international multidisciplinary forum on new drugs (2), organised by the EMCDDA in Lisbon in May 2011, this year’s forum will focus on new and emerging synthetic and natural drugs, such as synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (e.g. ‘Spice’) and stimulants (e.g. cathinones).EMCDDA Scientific Director Paul Griffiths, who will receive on 9 June the 2012 NIDA International Program Award for Excellence in International Leadership (3), will deliver a keynote speech on ‘New psychoactive substances — a growing challenge for drug policy and practice’. Other speakers include Volker Auwaerter of the University Medical Centre, Freiburg, who, in 2008, first identified the synthetic cannabinoid JWH-018 found in ‘Spice’ (4).

The rapid emergence of new drugs and the global nature of the phenomenon highlight the importance of international cooperation in this area. Global updates at the forum will look at the appearance and use of these substances and how they are monitored, detected, risk-assessed and controlled. Presenting an update from the European Union,Roumen Sedefov, EMCDDA Head of Supply reduction and new trends, will explore the question ‘Is the future already here?’ New psychoactive substances were detected in the EU in 2011, via the European early-warning system, at the rate of around one per week (5).

Challenges posed by emerging psychoactive substances for prevention and treatment will also be addressed at the event. Discussions will consider individual substances as well as the broader new drugs phenomenon and the implications for the treatment of acute toxicity and the prevention of use. This session will include insights from hospital emergency departments in the UK; prevention strategists in Poland; and medical experts from the USA who will explore the ‘legal ills’ of synthetic cannabinoids and piperazines.

Highlights from the forum will be presented on the EMCDDA website in June.

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