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£400k ‘club drugs’ project gets go ahead

Second phase of NEPTUNE project will improve delivery of evidence-based treatment for ‘club drugs’ by providing new resources for clinicians

Details of a new £400k project to improve interventions for the harmful effects of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) – more commonly known as ‘club drugs’ – are announced today. It is the first time that comprehensive guidance and tools will be delivered to small-scale clinical settings on a national scale to help provide more effective care for patients presenting harmful symptoms of NPS use.

The NEPTUNE II project, funded by the Health Foundation and run by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, builds on existing research into NPS substances, and aims to bring a better understanding of how the harmful effects of club drugs should be managed in clinical settings.[1]

It has been commissioned as growing evidence shows that clinicians lack confidence in identifying and offering care for patients who suffer as a result of using NPS. In a recent survey, only 30% of London-based staff reported a ‘high level of confidence’ in identification and clinical management of club drugs, compared to 80% who reported this level of confidence when working with people with heroin, crack or alcohol problems.[2]

Dr Owen Bowden-Jones, NEPTUNE Chair and clinical lead at the CNWL, comments: “With a new drug appearing every week in the EU and around one million people using at least one of these last year in the UK alone, it is critical that we help clinicians to better recognise, understand and manage the effects of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS).

“Because new substances are emerging so quickly, it is very difficult to expect clinicians to identify and manage harmful symptoms of NPS use. However, without this knowledge, we’re faced with a risk that many patients will be given inappropriate or ineffective treatment.

“We hope that by giving more robust and evidence-based guidance to clinicians, we will make a real difference for patients by building the confidence of clinicians in dealing with problems posed by NPS use.”

An expert working group, including patients, will support the development of the new resources, providing expertise to inform existing research and ensure all new materials are evidence-based in their approach.

The resources will take the form of educational resources and clinical tools to give clinicians confidence in managing NPS use through dedicated information on the symptoms and treatment of NPS substances.

The project will see the development of a national e-learning programme to inform clinicians’ understanding of NPS, alongside new tools for clinical management and data collection to improve a needs-assessment among populations at risk of ‘club drug’ harms. This will help offer effective interventions for patients when they are seen by clinicians.

The resources will be developed for use across a range of clinical settings that have a high likelihood of receiving patients with symptoms of NPS use, including specialist drug services, emergency departments, sexual health clinics, mental health services and primary care.

Dr Sarah Finlay, Consultant Physician in Emergency Medicine, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, said:

“NEPTUNE has given physicians working in emergency departments confidence in managing NPS in a digestible and easy to use format and that promotes patient safety.”

Dr Jo Bibby, Director of Strategy at the Health Foundation, said:

"We're delighted to provide funding to support the expansion of the NEPTUNE project through our spreading improvement programme. The use of club drugs is a newly emerging and rapidly changing area. Therefore it is vital that clinicians and healthcare professionals receive the very best up-to-date information and guidance to help them deliver effective interventions for patients who suffer from harmful effects of 'club drugs'."


[1] The project builds on existing research into NPS use.

2 Fexi P, Jones T, Bowden-Jones O: Assessing staff’s confidence in clinically identifying and managing club drugs vs common drugs. Poster presentation; Conference of the Faculty of Addictions, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Leeds, 2014.

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