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The Psychoactive Substance 2016 Act a year on: “Poor legislative changes have increased nursing care for managing NPS use”

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In May 2016, the Psychoactive Substances Act banned the sale, distribution and supply of all “Novel Psychoactive Substances”, ranging from meow meow to Spice, explains David Solomon. 


If the purpose of the law was to improve public health, so far, it has failed.

The efforts of the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) had proven fruitless in the prohibitive approach towards NPS drug classification.

However, the creation of the PSA (2016) makes it: “An offense to manufacture, import, supply or distribute-but not possess- any substance deemed to be psychoactive, with the exception of alcohol, tobacco and certain foods and medicines”.

“Nurses working in prisons have seen a rise in patients using synthetic cannabinoids.”

This newer legislation should help to combat recent increases in the use of NPS, however, recent evidence published in the British Medical Journal indicates that a drug ban does not prevent the development of newer illicit drugs.

Similarly, reports from the Lancet following the initial PSA (2016) ban, show that NPS are gaining more popularity evidenced by numbers of people admitted to A&E and mental health services with drug related problems.

NPS online purchases are increasing according to the Global Drug Survey (2016), with an identified recording of 8% increase in 2015 compared with 5% in 2011.

Nurses working in prisons have seen a rise in patients using synthetic cannabinoids (SC) commonly known as ‘Spice’ or ‘Black mamba’ and 150 strains have been identified on the black market in Europe and the UK.

“As nursing professionals we need effective legislation.”

Unlike the traditional street cannabis, SCs are highly potent and causes agitation, paranoia, psychosis and seizures which are not typical side effects with traditional cannabinoid strains.

The consequence is that the NHS and the wider healthcare system have encountered clinical pressures in managing NPS use. The implications of poor legislative control have impacted on the management of patients who are exposed cardiovascular, renal and mental health problems as a result of patient NPS use.

Nursing professionals are also struggling to manage patients who use NPS as there is little research to inform patient care and a lack of policies and procedures for managing patients’ symptoms.

We know there will challenges in developing a new approach towards NPS use and as nursing professionals we need effective legislation, policy change, harm reduction and clinical expertise to help us overcome them.

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