Characteristics of novel psychoactive substance exposures reported to New York City Poison Center, 2011-2014

Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2016;42(1):39-47. doi: 10.3109/00952990.2015.1106551. Epub 2015 Dec 17.


Background: Novel psychoactive substances (NPS) are emerging at an unprecedented rate. Likewise, prevalence of use and poisonings has increased in recent years.

Objective: To compare characteristics of NPS exposures and non-NPS-drug-related exposures and to examine whether there are differences between exposures involving synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists (SCRAs) and other NPS.

Methods: Poison control center data from the five counties of New York City and Long Island were examined from 2011-2014. We examined prevalence and characteristics of NPS exposures (classified as intentional abuse) and compared characteristics of cases involving SCRAs and other NPS.

Results: Prevalence of NPS exposures was 7.1% in 2011, rising to 12.6% in 2014. Most exposures (82.3%) involved SCRA use. The second and third most prevalent classes were phenethylamines/synthetic cathinones ("bath salts"; 10.2%) and psychedelic phenethylamines (4.3%). Compared to other drug-related exposures (i.e. involving licit and illicit drugs), those who used NPS were more likely to be younger, male, and to have not co-used other drugs (ps < 0.001). SCRA exposures increased sharply in 2014 and the mean age of users increased over time (p < 0.01). Females exposed to SCRAs were younger than males (p < 0.001), and in 2014, individuals exposed to SCRAs were more likely to report concomitant use of alcohol than users of other NPS (p = 0.010). Users of other NPS were more likely than SCRA users to report concomitant use of ecstasy/3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)/"Molly" (p < 0.001).

Conclusion: Exposures reported to the poison center that involve NPS are increasing and the majority involve SCRAs. These findings should inform prevention and harm reduction approaches.

Keywords: 4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine; MDMA); Novel psychoactive substances; drug exposures; ecstasy (3; synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists; synthetic cathinones.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / poisoning
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • New York City / epidemiology
  • Poison Control Centers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Poison Control Centers / trends
  • Poisoning / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Psychotropic Drugs / poisoning*
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Psychotropic Drugs