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Concept: Illegal drug trade


Illegal drug use continues to be a major threat to community health and safety. We used international drug surveillance databases to assess the relationship between multiple long-term estimates of illegal drug price and purity.

Concepts: Drug, Drug addiction, Heroin, Occupational safety and health, MDMA, Illegal drug trade, Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs


Illegal drugs exacerbate global social challenges such as substance addiction, mental health issues and violent crime. Police and customs officials often rely on specially-trained sniffer dogs, which act as sensitive biological detectors to find concealed illegal drugs. However, the dog “alert” is no longer sufficient evidence to allow a search without a warrant or additional probable cause because cannabis has been legalized in two US states and is decriminalized in many others. Retraining dogs to recognize a narrower spectrum of drugs is difficult and training new dogs is time consuming, yet there are no analytical devices with the portability and sensitivity necessary to detect substance-specific chemical signatures. This means there is currently no substitute for sniffer dogs. Here we describe an insect screening procedure showing that the western honeybee (Apis mellifera) can sense volatiles associated with pure samples of heroin and cocaine. We developed a portable electroantennographic device for the on-site measurement of volatile perception by these insects, and found a positive correlation between honeybee antennal responses and the concentration of specific drugs in test samples. Furthermore, we tested the ability of honeybees to learn the scent of heroin and trained them to show a reliable behavioral response in the presence of a highly-diluted scent of pure heroin. Trained honeybees could therefore be used to complement or replace the role of sniffer dogs as part of an automated drug detection system. Insects are highly sensitive to volatile compounds and provide an untapped resource for the development of biosensors. Automated conditioning as presented in this study could be developed as a platform for the practical detection of illicit drugs using insect-based sensors.

Concepts: Insect, Drug, European honey bee, Honey bee, Morphine, Drug addiction, Heroin, Illegal drug trade


Drug checking is a harm reduction strategy which allows users to check the content and purity of illicit drugs. Although drug checking has been trialled internationally, with demonstrated value as a harm reduction and health promotion strategy, the use of such services in Australia remains a contentious issue. This study aimed to investigate the proportion and patterns of illicit drug use among young people, their attitudes towards drug checking at festivals and the potential impact of drug checking on intended drug use behaviour.

Concepts: Drug, Drugs, Drug addiction, Heroin, Illegal drug trade, Harm reduction, Illicit drug use in Australia, Festival


To determine whether there is evidence that mass-media campaigns can be effective in reducing illicit drug consumption and the intent to consume.

Concepts: Evidence-based medicine, Systematic review, Drug addiction, Meta-analysis, Illegal drug trade


The manufacture of methamphetamine in clandestine drug laboratories occurs in various locations, including residential houses and apartments. Unlike the controlled manufacture of chemicals and drugs, clandestine manufacture results in the uncontrolled storage, use, generation, and disposal of a wide range of chemicals and the deposit of methamphetamine drug residues on indoor surfaces (1). These residues have been found at high levels on porous and nonporous surfaces and have been shown to persist for months to years (1). Persons exposed to these environments often have poorly defined exposures and health effects. It is commonly assumed that these levels of exposure are low compared with those related to illicit drug use or therapeutic use of amphetamine-based drugs for managing behavioral issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (2). In 2015, a family that was unknowingly exposed to methamphetamine residues in a house in Australia was found to have adverse health effects and elevated methamphetamine levels in hair samples, highlighting the potential for public health risks for persons who might live in methamphetamine-contaminated dwellings. This case study highlights the importance of the identification and effective decontamination of former clandestine drug laboratories.

Concepts: Attention, Drug addiction, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Hyperactivity, Amphetamine, MDMA, Clandestine chemistry, Illegal drug trade


Opioid overdose deaths quadrupled from 8,050 in 1999 to 33,091 in 2015 and accounted for 63% of drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2015. During 2010-2015, heroin overdose deaths quadrupled from 3,036 to 12,989 (1). Sharp increases in the supply of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) are likely contributing to increased deaths (2-6). CDC examined trends in unintentional and undetermined deaths involving heroin or synthetic opioids excluding methadone (i.e., synthetic opioids)* by the four U.S. Census regions during 2006-2015. Drug exhibits (i.e., drug products) obtained by law enforcement and reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA’s) National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) that tested positive for heroin or fentanyl (i.e., drug reports) also were examined. All U.S. Census regions experienced substantial increases in deaths involving heroin from 2006 to 2015. Since 2010, the South and West experienced increases in heroin drug reports, whereas the Northeast and Midwest experienced steady increases during 2006-2015.(†) In the Northeast, Midwest, and South, deaths involving synthetic opioids and fentanyl drug reports increased considerably after 2013. These broad changes in the U.S. illicit drug market highlight the urgent need to track illicit drugs and enhance public health interventions targeting persons using or at high risk for using heroin or IMF.

Concepts: United States, Drug, Opioid, Morphine, Heroin, Naloxone, Illegal drug trade, Drug overdose


Addiction’s biological basis has been the focus of much research. The findings have persuaded experts and the public that drug use in addicts is compulsive. But the word “compulsive” identifies patterns of behavior, and all behavior has a biological basis, including voluntary actions. Thus, the question is not whether addiction has a biology, which it must, but whether it is sensible to say that addicts use drugs compulsively. The relevant research shows most of those who meet the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for addiction quit using illegal drugs by about age 30, that they usually quit without professional help, and that the correlates of quitting include legal concerns, economic pressures, and the desire for respect, particularly from family members. That is, the correlates of quitting are the correlates of choice not compulsion. However, addiction is, by definition, a disorder, and thereby not beneficial in the long run. This is precisely the pattern of choices predicted by quantitative choice principles, such as the matching law, melioration, and hyperbolic discounting. Although the brain disease model of addiction is perceived by many as received knowledge it is not supported by research or logic. In contrast, well established, quantitative choice principles predict both the possibility and the details of addiction.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Brain, Drug, Morphine, Drug addiction, Heroin, Illegal drug trade


Drug policy, whether for legal or illegal substances, is a controversial field that encompasses many complex issues. Policies can have effects on a myriad of outcomes and stakeholders differ in the outcomes they consider and value, while relevant knowledge on policy effects is dispersed across multiple research disciplines making integrated judgements difficult.

Concepts: Scientific method, Drug, Decision theory, Heroin, Hemp, Political science, Illegal drug trade, Prohibition


In March and October 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and CDC issued nationwide alerts identifying fentanyl, particularly illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF), as a threat to public health and safety (1,2). IMF is pharmacologically similar to pharmaceutical fentanyl (PF), but is unlawfully produced in clandestine laboratories, obtained via illicit drug markets, and includes fentanyl analogs. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50-100 times more potent than morphine and approved for the management of surgical/postoperative pain, severe chronic pain, and breakthrough cancer pain.* DEA’s National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) collects drug identification results from drug cases analyzed by federal, state, and local forensic laboratories throughout the United States.(†) In 2014, 80% of fentanyl submissions (i.e., drug products obtained by law enforcement that tested positive for fentanyl) in NFLIS were identified from 10 states, including Florida and Ohio (2), and seven of these 10 states reported sharp increases in fentanyl-related overdose deaths (fentanyl deaths) (3). This report presents findings of increased fentanyl deaths during 2013-2015 from investigations conducted by the University of Florida and the Ohio Department of Public Health, in collaboration with CDC. Analyses examined the association between trends in fentanyl-related law enforcement submissions and fentanyl deaths and describes groups at risk for fentanyl death using medical examiner and coroner reports. The marked increases in fentanyl death in Florida and Ohio during 2013-2015 were closely associated with parallel increases in fentanyl submissions, with the largest impact on persons who use heroin, consistent with reports that IMF is commonly mixed with or sold as heroin (1,4). In Ohio, circumstances associated with fentanyl deaths included a current diagnosed mental health disorder(§) and recent release from an institution such as a jail, rehabilitation facility, or hospital.

Concepts: Opioid, Morphine, Heroin, Controlled Substances Act, MDMA, Illegal drug trade, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration


The presence of pharmaceuticals, including illicit drugs in aquatic systems, is a topic of environmental significance because of their global occurrence and potential effects on aquatic ecosystems and human health, but few studies have examined the ecological effects of illicit drugs. We conducted a survey of several drug residues, including the potentially illicit drug amphetamine, at 6 stream sites along an urban to rural gradient in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. We detected numerous drugs, including amphetamine (3 to 630 ng L-1), in all stream sites. We examined the fate and ecological effects of amphetamine on biofilm, seston, and aquatic insect communities in artificial streams exposed to an environmentally relevant concentration (1 μg L-1) of amphetamine. The amphetamine parent compound decreased in the artificial streams from less than 1 μg L-1 on day 1 to 0.11 μg L-1 on day 22. In artificial streams treated with amphetamine, there was up to 45% lower biofilm chlorophyll a per ash-free dry mass, 85% lower biofilm gross primary production, 24% greater seston ash-free dry mass, and 30% lower seston community respiration compared to control streams. Exposing streams to amphetamine also changed the composition of bacterial and diatom communities in biofilms at day 21 and increased cumulative dipteran emergence by 65% and 89% during the first and third weeks of the experiment, respectively. This study demonstrates that amphetamine and other biologically active drugs are present in urban streams and have the potential to affect both structure and function of stream communities.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Pharmacology, Biology, Water, Drug, Ecosystem, Riparian zone, Illegal drug trade