New Psychoactive Substances (NPS): a questionnaire on the definition of NPS, proposals to establish a forensic centre for excellence, and improving data collection and information sharing

Closed 2 Dec 2015

Opened 23 Sep 2015

Feedback updated 29 Feb 2016

We asked

We asked for your views on the definition of new psychoactive substances (NPS), proposals to establish a forensic centre for excellence and to improve data collection and information sharing

You said

The majority of the 54 responses supported the Scottish Government's proposals. There were some changes suggested in relation to proposals to categorise NPS according to their effects. Additional suggestions were also made about the potential functions of a centre for excellence and for improved information sharing.

We did

The results of the questionnaire will be used to inform ongoing discussions with the UK Government and stakeholders in Scotland in relation to implementation of the Psychoactive Substances Act, and to further develop the Scottish Government's policy programme on NPS.

Results updated 19 Feb 2016

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Published responses

View submitted responses where consent has been given to publish the response.


New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), also known as “legal highs”, have risen to prominence in recent years, and stakeholders across Scotland have raised concerns about the impact of these substances on individuals, services and local communities. Much is still unknown about the scale and associated harms of NPS use in Scotland, although there are indications that some NPS can cause a range of physical and psychological symptoms among users, from kidney failure to psychosis[1]. It has also been suggested that these may be just as serious as for other illicit drugs[2], and have even resulted in death[3].

Improving routine data collection and information sharing on NPS will help to address some of the existing gaps in knowledge. However, this requires a common definition of NPS, and a better understanding of the NPS being used in Scotland.  These issues have been discussed by the NPS Evidence Group[4], coordinated by the Scottish Government, and were also recognised in the report published by the NPS Expert Review Group in February 2015[5]. The Expert Review Group recommended that a definition of NPS should be developed for stakeholders in Scotland; and that a national centre for excellence in forensic analysis be created to lead in the detection and identification of NPS within the criminal justice system. This could assist in providing standards and building evidence for possible prosecution. It was also recommended that consideration be given to the possibility of a Centre for Excellence becoming a national platform for building and maintaining a knowledge base on NPS, sharing information with for example hospitals and other relevant services on emerging trends.  

Subsequent to publication of the Expert Review Group report, and following on from the General Election in May 2015, the Home Office published the Psychoactive Substances Bill on 29 May 2015[6]. As currently drafted, the Bill will create a blanket ban on the production, distribution, sale and supply of psychoactive substances in the United Kingdom. This has implications for Scottish stakeholders, both in terms of how NPS is defined, but also in relation to the forensic capacity needed to support implementation of the Bill. This will make the ability to identify NPS, and to determine whether a substance is psychoactive, increasingly important.

The Scottish Government therefore wishes to engage with those who are likely to be impacted by the Bill, in order to explore the potential needs of stakeholders in Scotland. The questions below will cover three key areas:


  1. Sharing the proposed definition of NPS as set out in the draft Psychoactive Substances Bill, and seeking views on a model for categorising NPS within this high level definition.


  1. Gathering views on potential functions of a Forensic Centre for Excellence, to lead on the detection and identification of NPS, and


  1. Gathering views about how to improve data collection and information sharing on NPS between stakeholders.

[1] Scottish Government (2014) New Psychoactive Substances – Evidence Review, available at:

[2] UNODC, (2013) United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) The challenge of New Psychoactive Substances 2013, available at:

[3] National Records of Scotland (2015) Drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2014, available at:

[4] The NPS Evidence Group is comprised of key stakeholders from a range of sectors including health, enforcement, academia, and the third sector amongst others. This group has met twice to discuss the evidence gaps relating to NPS.

[5] Scottish Government (2015) New Psychoactive Substances Expert Review Group: Review of the current Legal Framework available to Govern the Sale and Supply of New Psychoactive Substances, available at:


Why your views matter

The information you provide will be used to inform on-going discussions with the Home Office and to determine the extent to which these needs can be met by the UK Government in their plans to implement the Psychoactive Substances Bill. It is acknowledged that in the current financial climate, any plans are likely to be limited in scope. Therefore, although a Centre for Excellence has the potential to address some of the gaps in knowledge on NPS in Scotland, the intention is not that it should address all of the existing gaps in data collection and information sharing comprehensively. The Scottish Government is seeking to identify the most pressing gaps and the key priority areas and then explore the options for how these could be addressed.

What happens next

A summary of the results will be published by 18th February 2016.


  • Health and Social Care
  • Law and Order