By Dr Rachel Sutherland, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC)

There are multiple terms in use that refer broadly to new, novel or emerging drugs. This includes terms such as research chemicals, analogues, legal highs, herbal highs, synthetic drugs, designer drugs, bath salts, novel psychoactive substances, emerging psychoactive substances and new psychoactive substances. There is considerable variation in the terms used across countries and studies; to promote standardisation of terminology, the term ‘new psychoactive substances’ (NPS) has been adopted by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the Australian Government Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs.

There remains no universally accepted definition of the term NPS, however they are most commonly defined as substances which do not fall under international drug controls, but which may pose a public health threat comparable to substances that are currently prohibited. However, the broadening of this definition in recent years means that, in practice, the term NPS can refer to psychoactive substances that: 1) are not scheduled under the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances; 2) are scheduled but have not previously been well established in recreational drug markets; or 3) have little literature relating to them.

To date, approximately 900 NPS have been identified by the UNODC. It is unknown exactly how many (and which) of these NPS have been detected in Australia, however the UNODC has reported the total figure to be somewhere between 101 and 200.