April 12, 2024

Drugs you need to be testing for this quarter – Recommended scope for novel psychoactive substance (NPS) testing in the U.S.

By Guest Contributer

By Keith Graves, President Graves and Associates 

This article is reprinted with permission from the Drug Intelligence Bulletin

With the dynamic nature of the novel psychoactive substances (NPS) market, forensic toxicology laboratories face the ongoing challenge of adapting their testing scope to detect and confirm the presence of these substances effectively. The rapidly evolving landscape of NPS necessitates constant vigilance and adaptation in testing methodologies. This article outlines the latest recommendations for NPS testing in the United States, reflecting the most current trends and intelligence as of the first quarter of 2024. These guidelines have been developed through the collaborative efforts of the Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT) NPS Committee and the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education (CFSRE) at the Fredric Rieders Family Foundation, incorporating insights from national and international collaborations.

The need for updated testing guidelines

NPS encompass a broad array of substances that mimic the effects of traditional illicit drugs. The diversity and rapid introduction of new substances present significant challenges for forensic toxicology laboratories. To maintain effectiveness in identifying these substances, labs must frequently update their testing scopes based on the latest available data and trends.


Tier-One Substances: High priority for testing

The first tier of recommended substances for testing includes those most frequently encountered or posing significant health risks. This category prioritizes substances with established cut-off concentrations or reporting limits, aiding in the detection and quantification of these NPS in various matrices.

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Tier-Two Substances: Recommended for consideration

The second tier consists of substances that are less frequently encountered but still present potential health risks. Testing for these NPS is recommended, especially in regions where their presence has been reported.

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Tier-Three Substances: Conditional consideration

Tier three includes substances that may be emerging or have been reported in limited quantities. Laboratories are encouraged to consider these for inclusion in their testing scope, depending on local or regional trends.

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Implementation challenges and considerations

Adopting these recommendations requires laboratories to navigate several challenges, including updating analytical methods, ensuring the availability of reference standards, and training staff on new testing protocols. Moreover, the regional variability of NPS prevalence necessitates a flexible approach to testing scope, allowing laboratories to prioritize substances most relevant to their specific context.

Continuous evolution of NPS testing

The landscape of NPS is subject to continual change, influenced by factors such as legal restrictions, market demand, and the introduction of new substances. As a result, the recommended scope for testing must be regularly reviewed and updated. Collaboration among forensic toxicologists, law enforcement agencies, and research institutions is crucial for sharing information and best practices.

Your insights

The recommendations provided here are based on the collective expertise and current understanding of the NPS landscape. We welcome insights and feedback from professionals in the field. Share your experiences and perspectives on NPS testing in the comments section below. Your contributions are invaluable in refining and enhancing these guidelines for the benefit of communities across the United States.

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