Background: Countless novel psychoactive substances have been sensationally described in the last 15 years by the media and academia. Though some become significant issues, most fail to become a substantial threat. The diversity and breadth of these potential problem substances has led policymakers, law enforcement officers, and healthcare providers alike to feel overwhelmed and underprepared for dealing with novel drugs.
Objective: Inadequacies in training and preparation may be remedied by a response that is more selective and more proactive. The current manuscript seeks to clarify how to most efficiently forecast the "success" of each newly introduced novel psychoactive substance in order to allow for more efficient decision making and proactive resource allocation.
Methods: A review of literature, published case reports, and legal studies was used to determine which factors were most closely linked to use of a novel drug spreading. Following the development of a forecasting framework, examples of its use are provided.
Results: The resulting five-step forecast method relies on assessments of the availability of a potential user base, the costs--legal and otherwise--of the drug relative to existent analogues, the subjective experience, the substance's dependence potential and that of any existent analogue, and ease of acquisition. These five factors should serve to forecast the prevalence of novel drug use, but reaction should be conditioned by the potential for harm.
Conclusions: The five-step forecast method predicts that use of acetyl fentanyl, kratom, Leonotis leonurus, and e-cigarettes will grow, but that use of dragonfly and similar substances will not. While this forecasting approach should not be used as a replacement for monitoring, the use of the five-step method will allow policymakers, law enforcement and practitioners to quickly begin targeted evaluative, intervention, and treatment initiatives only for those drugs with predicted harm.
Keywords: Acetyl fentanyl; Bromo-Dragonfly; drug policy; forecasting; novel drugs; novel psychoactive substances.