Deaths involving new psychoactive substances increase again in 2015. (Published 9 September 2016)
New psychoactive substances (NPS) contain chemicals which produce similar psychoactive effects to “traditional” illegal drugs like cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy. They started to become more popular on the UK drugs scene around 2008 to 2009, with synthetic stimulants such as benzylpiperazine (BZP) and mephedrone, and synthetic cannabinoids (such as “spice”), among the first to gain popularity. NPS are sometimes referred to as “legal highs”, but the majority are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, so are no longer legal.

The mortality rate from deaths involving NPS is very low compared with heroin and/or morphine (1.9 deaths per million compared with 21.3). However, NPS deaths have increased sharply over the last 5 years, with 114 deaths registered in 2015 (up from 82 deaths in 2014).

In 2015, there were 25 deaths involving NPS drugs which were still legal at the time of death. The government introduced the Psychoactive Substances Act in May 2016, which establishes a blanket ban on the importation, production or supply of most psychoactive substances. However, it is likely to be several years before our data shows whether this ban has had any impact on deaths involving NPS.

Source: Office for national statistics