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The emergence of new psychoactive substances (NPS) – often called “synthetic drugs,” “legal highs,” or “research chemicals” – pose a number of challenges for policymakers, media covering these issues, medical and social service providers, and people who use these substances.

Unfortunately, current media and policy responses to NPS – a broad category that includes everything from synthetic cannabinoids such as “K2”, to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, to traditional plants such as kratom – have been largely fueled by misinformation rather than facts. For example, in New York City, concerns about synthetic cannabinoids led to misleading media coverage and targeted policing in communities of color and among the homeless, missing a critical opportunity to lead with harm reduction and public health strategies instead of criminalization.

These substances often come on the market as legal alternatives to illicit drugs. In the U.S., they are routinely banned, leading chemists to come up with slightly new formulations to evade existing laws. This cat-and-mouse game has led to a proliferation of these substances, whose potential harms (and benefits) are largely unknown.

Join us for an important conversation about novel psychoactive substances on the evening of June 9th and all day on June 10th in New York City. At New Strategies for New Psychoactive Substances: A Public Health Approach, we will share what is currently known about these substances, discuss strategies for intervening when use becomes harmful, explore new forms of drug regulation, and examine how messaging and media about NPS can become more constructive. The gathering will lay the foundation for a series of recommendations for policymakers, medical and social service providers, researchers, and media

This event is free and open to the public. Seats are limited. Registration is required: http://newstrategies4nps.eventbrite.com

New Strategies for New Psychoactive Substances: A Public Health Approach

June 9th, 7:00 – 9:00 pm
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
524 W 59th Street
New York, NY 10019

June 10th, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
The New School – The Bob and Sheila Hoerle Lecture Hall, UL105,
University Center
63 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10003


June 9, 7:00pm-9:00pm at John Jay: Why do people use NPS?

Before we can discuss what to do about NPS, it is important to understand the range of reasons why people use NPS, specifically, and psychoactive drugs in general. What motivates use? What benefits might be derived from their use? Are there different communities of people who use for different reasons? If so, how do they differ? How do existing drug policies influence the use of these substances? How does or should understanding the underlying reasons for use shape our responses?

June 10, 8:30am-5:30pm at The New School

9:30-11:30am: Getting beyond the myths: What do we actually know about NPS?

Although many NPS are not all that new, responses from both media and policymakers have often been based on little information or misinformation. What exactly are NPS (including synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic opioids, cathinones, kratom, etc.)? What are their effects – both harmful and potentially beneficial? What do we know about who is using NPS? In which parts of the country are they being used? What do we know about trends in their use? What don’t we know and what needs more research?

11:30am-12:30pm: Lunch

12:30-2:30pm: Public health, harm reduction, and policy interventions

NPS provide an opportunity to rethink out failed approach to prohibitionist drug policies and to conceptualize innovative approaches to responding to drugs. What can we do in the short term to minimize and address the harms of NPS? What public health, clinical and harm reduction interventions might be needed? What policy changes might help? Can we envision new regulatory schemes that do not rely on criminalization? What can we learn from other countries about how to respond to NPS?

2:30-3:00pm: Break

3:00-4:30pm: Drug scares, media, and messaging

Drug scares or panics follow a recognizable pattern that includes exaggerated fears about a new substance, an absence of concrete information, and associating the new substance with a marginalized group. How do NPS fit or defy the “drug scare” model? What role do media and messaging play in shaping policy responses to NPS? What role should the media be playing and what tools do they need to do so?

4:30-5:00pm: Closing: Where do we go from here?

Next steps for researchers, policymakers, media, and providers.


Drug Policy Alliance

The New School for Social Research Harm Reduction Psychotherapy Certificate Program

John Jay College of Criminal Justice


John and Laura Arnold

Center for Optimal Living

Families for Sensible Drug Policy

New York State Psychological Association’s Division on Addiction



Columbia University Institute for Research in African-American Studies


HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol

Harm Reduction Coalition

The Influence

Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)

New York Academy of Medicine

New York Harm Reduction Educators

Picture the Homeless

Students for Sensible Drug Policy


Date Published: May 27, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

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