NIST, Collaborators Create Drug Tracking Website

NIST, Collaborators Create Drug Tracking Website

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency have launched a website where forensic chemists can share data on new variants or analogs of drugs.

The current opioid crisis is partially fueled by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that comes in many forms that are difficult to track. In an effort to help combat this, scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency have launched a website where forensic chemists can share data on new variants or analogs of drugs.

The Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) Data Hub includes the chemical signatures and structures of drug variants, which is vital to identifying them in the lab. The goal is to provide data for drug identification to forensic chemists more quickly.

“If people start overdosing and dying from a new drug analog, authorities need to identify it as quickly as possible,” said Aaron Urbas, the NIST research chemist who led the project. “If you want to focus your resources effectively, you need to know what you’re looking for.”

In addition to data on synthetic opioids like fentanyl, the Data Hub is also intended to host data on synthetic cannabinoids (synthetic marijuana), synthetic cathinones (aka bath salts), amphetamines, and other drugs.

Illegal drug manufacturers create new variants to increase drug potency and stay one step ahead of law enforcement. When drugs are seized, forensic chemists try to identify it by checking its chemical signature against law enforcement databases of drug chemical signatures.

New and different drug variants may not be recognized, and identifying the substance will require more time and more complex analysis. The NPS Data Hub hopes to allow experts to collaborate, hopefully expediting the process.

“These people have very rare expertise,” NIST senior policy advisor Jayne Morrow said. “The Data Hub brings these experts together and provides a forum where they can discuss what they’re seeing in real time. There haven’t been great ways to do that before, and it’s really needed.”

Accounts on the NPS Data Hub are only available for users with suitable law enforcement, public health, or research credentials.

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