The evaluation of the abuse liability of drugs

Drug Saf. 1990:5 Suppl 1:46-57. doi: 10.2165/00002018-199000051-00008.


In order to place appropriate restrictions upon the availability of certain therapeutic agents to limit their abuse, it is important to assess abuse liability, an important aspect of drug safety evaluation. However, the negative consequences of restriction must also be considered. Drugs most likely to be tested are psychoactive compounds with therapeutic indications similar to known drugs of abuse. Methods include assays of pharmacological profile, drug discrimination procedures, self-administration procedures, and measures of drug-induced toxicity including evaluations of tolerance and physical dependence. Furthermore, the evaluation of toxicity using behavioural end-points is an important component of the assessment, and it is generally believed that the most valid procedure in this evaluation is the measurement of drug self-administration. However, even this method rarely predicts the extent of abuse of a specific drug. Although methods are available which appear to measure relative abuse liability, these procedures are not validated for all drug classes. Thus, additional strategies, including abuse liability studies in humans, modelled after those used with animals, must be used in order to make a more informed prediction. Although there is pressure to place restrictions on new drugs at the time of marketing, in light of the difficulty of predicting relative abuse potential, a better strategy might be to market a drug without restrictions, but require postmarketing surveillance in order to obtain more accurate information on which to base a final decision.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Humans
  • Self Administration
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*