Over the last ten years, the number of NPS has increased significantly. Since 2005, the EU’s drug monitoring centre (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has registered 450 new substances, and 101 hitherto unknown substances were registered in 2014 alone.
The health services, the judicial system and the customs agencies have difficulty keeping abreast of this development, and this tendency is disquieting. In Norway, a number of deaths associated with NPS have already been reported (7) – (9). The most serious example is that of the amphetamine-like intoxicant paramethoxymethamphetamine (PMMA) (10), which has caused more than 30 deaths in this country since 2010. In Sweden, 20 people recently died after intake of the morphine-like substance acetylfentanyl.
The deaths that have been caused by NPS represent no more than the tip of the iceberg – the total extent of use is unknown, in Norway as well as internationally. Reports from Norwegian hospitals and emergency rooms, statistics on impounded material and web forums all indicate widespread use even in Norway.
Since 2001, Norway has been a member of the EMCDDA, which monitors the drug situation in Europe. One of the most important tasks to which Norway has committed itself is identification and alert through the Early Warning System whenever NPS are detected. Reporting of serious incidents, mainly deaths and serious poisonings, to the EMCDDA is a key element in the work related to early warning, while all new findings of NPS are reported.
Despite the major increase in the use of NPS in recent years, the «classic» drugs of abuse remain the cause of the vast majority of all drug-related deaths in Norway (11).
The number of seizures made by the police and customs authorities has increased significantly in recent years, from 23 in 2005 to 738 in 2013 (12). Altogether 99 different NPS were discovered in Norway in the period 2010 – 2014 (13). The number of seizures levelled off from 2012 to 2014, but it is unclear how this development will proceed and whether this is due to fewer drugs being imported to the country or to fewer successful seizures being made.
There is little knowledge available regarding the buyers of NPS, but it is reported that young people, athletes and certain occupational groups that are subject to drug testing use them (3). Data on apprehended drivers in Norway, most of whom are men, have shown that even experienced and older drug users also take NPS (14) – (16).