A new early warning system is to flag a range of emerging drugs that mimic illegal substances, the National Council on Substance Abuse (NCSA) announced Wednesday.
New psychoactive substances – NPS – are either legal or illegal drugs, new or existing, that have a narcotic effect.
As the NCSA met with other drug-fighting officials at its Belleville office, the council’s deputy manager Troy Wickham said that the Early Warning System (EWS) would help the authorities to prevent, eliminate, control or delay the onset of persons abusing substances. It is also designed to detect, test and distribute information on NPSs promptly, he said.
NPS are “drugs that are not controlled by the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, but which may pose a public health threat comparable to that posed by substances listed in these conventions”, he said.
Wickham added: “NPS include range drugs that may mimic legal and illegal drugs, drugs that are new to the market or drugs that are newly misused.”
NCSA officials said there was evidence to suggest that some people were already mixing nontraditional legal and illicit drugs, that pose a risk to public health.
Wickham said due to the speed at which an NPS could appear and be distributed, the monitoring of those substances presented a challenge for law enforcement and to public health.
“The distribution of NPS has attracted the attention of criminal networks. As a result, current laws may be slow to recognise the threat to public health from the consumption of an NPS. Reducing the risks associated with these drugs requires new, faster and more effective ways of drug control,” he said.
Wickham stressed that implementing a warning system in Barbados would inform approaches to drug education and prevention, bring considerably more attention to the regulation of new psychoactive substances and guide policy and legislative frameworks on new drugs.
A technical oversight committee is to be established, including representatives from the NCSA, the Royal Barbados Police Force, Verdun House of the Substance Abuse Foundation, the Psychiatric Hospital, the Barbados Prison Service, the Centre for Council and Addiction Support, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Edna Nicholls Centre, and the associations of principals of primary and secondary schools.
Director of the Forensic Science Centre, Cheryl Corbin, welcomed the EWS, saying there was a need for officials to know the substances that were being used here.
She said: “You can’t just base this on a person’s behaviour.
“Therefore, it means that critical to an exercise like this is to have a scientific test done to be able to verify the presence or absence of what you are suspecting to be there, which is in your listing of chemicals, and to be able to identify if there are other compounds that you did not capture in your list.”
Corbin said new legislation would be required to combat the abuse of the emerging drugs, and suggested the early warning system could also serve as a tool to present information to the court of law.
Pointing out that the forensic department “should be online with our scientific investigative capacity no later than April 1, 2020”, Corbin said she would then know what other upgrades are needed for the department to work closely with the EWS.
But the Government’s chief forensic officer warned against creating a system that was too complex and would impede their progress, adding that it was important that those involved in the process leave their “possible ivory tower and attitude out the door”.
Corbin also recommended that when an NPS is found among a young user that the first option should not be to report them to the police, but for them to be “steered towards a counselling agency or you steer them towards a doctor and we the forensic centre confiscate the items” so that further testing and documenting could take place.