BACKGROUND: Drug checking is a proven harm reduction strategy and provides real-time information on the market of new psychoactive substances (NPS). It combines chemical analysis of samples with direct engagement with people who use drugs (PWUD), giving the ability to increase preparedness and responsiveness towards NPS. Next to that, it supports rapid identification of potential unwitting consumption. However, NPS cause a toxicological battle for the researchers, as factors such as the unpredictability and quick shift of the market complicate the detection.
METHODS: To evaluate challenges posed towards drug checking services, proficiency testing was set up to evaluate existing analytical techniques and investigate the capability to correctly identify circulating NPS. Twenty blind substances, covering the most common categories of substances, were analyzed according to the existing protocols of the existing drug checking services, including several analytical methods such as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and liquid chromatography with diode array detector (LC-DAD).
RESULTS: The proficiency test scores range from 80 to 97.5% accuracy. The most common issues and errors are mainly unidentified compounds, presumably due to no up-to-date libraries, and/ or confusion between structural isomers, such as 3- and 4-chloroethcathinone, or structural analogs, such as MIPLA (N-methyl-N-isopropyl lysergamide) and LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide).
CONCLUSIONS: The participating drug checking services have access to adequate analytical tools to provide feedback to drug users and provide up-to-date information on NPS.