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NYU researchers document self-reported use of new synthetic drugs by teens/young adults

September 15, 2015

In recent years, there has been an increase in emergence and use of a variety of new drugs, so-called "novel psychoactive substances" (NPS) in the US and worldwide. However, there is little published survey data estimating the prevalence of use in the US. Media reports about use of new drugs such as "Spice" ("synthetic marijuana") and "bath salts" such as "Flakka" are now common, yet very few health surveys ask about use of such drugs.

A new study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence by researchers affiliated with New York University's Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR), examined self-reported use of 57 different new drugs and found that prevalence of use increased from 2009 to 2013. Use of these new drugs was most common among males, whites, older individuals, those of lower income, and among those residing in cities. Use of various other illicit drugs such as LSD, cocaine, and ecstasy/MDMA (a.k.a.: "Molly") was very common among users.

"About 1% of subjects self-reported any use of the 57 new drugs we examined," said Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, a CDUHR affiliated researcher and an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC). "Use of psychedelic tryptamines--primarily DMT--was most common, followed by psychedelic phenethylamines and synthetic cannabinoids."

The article, "Self-Reported Use of Novel Psychoactive Substances in a US Nationally Representative Survey: Prevalence, Correlates, and a Call for New Survey Methods to Prevent Underreporting," used data on self-reported use of new drugs from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) (2009-2013), a national representative sample of non-institutionalized individuals in the US. Subjects were asked to provide names of (non-traditional) drugs they used that they were not specifically asked about. The researchers examined lifetime prevalence and sociodemographic correlates of self-reported use of new and uncommon synthetic drugs among subjects ages 12-34-years-old (N=213,076).

The researchers found that almost all (?95%) subjects who reported use of a new drug also reported lifetime use of alcohol, marijuana, or cigarettes, and lifetime use of ecstasy (79.4%), opioids (79.1%), cocaine (74.3%), and LSD (73.7%) were also common.

"This is the first study reporting on use of a variety of new drugs in a nationally representative US sample," said Dr. Palamar. "However, we're pretty confident that use of new drugs was severely underreported, as the research subjects were not asked about most of these drugs specifically."

Dr Palmar also points to prior research and analyses of other national data which suggest much higher rates of use of 'bath salts' and 'synthetic marijuana' than this data showed.

"Hundreds of new psychoactive drugs have come out in recent years and some of them can be very dangerous," Dr. Palamar cautions. "We need health surveys to ask about use of new drugs, in addition to traditional drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, in order to quickly pick up on potential drug epidemics."
-end-
Declaration of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.08.028

Authors and Affiliations:

Joseph J. Palamar a, b, c, , , Silvia S. Martins d, Mark K. Su e, Danielle C. Ompad b, c, d, f
a New York University Langone Medical Center, Department of Population Health, New York, NY, USA
b Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, New York University College of Nursing, New York, NY, USA
c Center for Health, Identity, Behavior, and Prevention Studies, New York University, New York, NY, USA
d Columbia University, Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, New York, NY, USA
e New York University School of Medicine, Ronald O. Perelman Department of Emergency Medicine, Division of Medical Toxicology, New York, NY, USA
f College of Global Public Health, New York University, New York, NY, USA
Received 8 May 2015, Revised 26 August 2015, Accepted 28 August 2015, Available online 3 September 2015

This project was funded by the NIH (K01 DA-038800, PI: Palamar).

About CDUHR

The mission of the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) is to end the HIV and HCV epidemics in drug using populations and their communities by conducting transdisciplinary research and disseminating its findings to inform programmatic, policy, and grass roots initiatives at the local, state, national and global levels. CDUHR is a Core Center of Excellence funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Grant #P30 DA011041). It is the first center for the socio-behavioral study of substance use and HIV in the United States and is located at the New York University College of Nursing. For more information, visit http://www.cduhr.org.

About NYU Langone Medical Center

NYU Langone Medical Center, a world-class, patient-centered, integrated academic medical center, is one of the nation's premier centers for excellence in clinical care, biomedical research, and medical education. Located in the heart of Manhattan, NYU Langone is composed of four hospitals--Tisch Hospital, its flagship acute care facility; Rusk Rehabilitation; the Hospital for Joint Diseases, the Medical Center's dedicated inpatient orthopaedic hospital; and Hassenfeld Children's Hospital, a comprehensive pediatric hospital supporting a full array of children's health services across the Medical Center--plus the NYU School of Medicine, which since 1841 has trained thousands of physicians and scientists who have helped to shape the course of medical history. The Medical Center's tri-fold mission to serve, teach, and discover is achieved 365 days a year through the seamless integration of a culture devoted to excellence in patient care, education, and research. For more information, go to http://www.NYULMC.org,

About New York University College of Nursing

NYU College of Nursing is a global leader in nursing education, research, and practice. It offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a Master of Science and Post-Master's Certificate Programs, a Doctor of Philosophy in Research Theory and Development, and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. For more information, visit https://nursing.nyu.edu/

New York University

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