Tracking NPS

NPS banner

New designer drug etizolam is among numerous benzodiazepines recently reclassified under the Misuse of Drugs Act by the UK Government. This change in the law is the result of evidence presented by the NPS (New Psychoactive Substances) Investigation Unit, the only one of its kind in Europe.

A specialist team, the NPS Investigation Unit is tasked with assisting local policing divisions to tackle new trends in NPS in Scotland. The unit routinely liaises with the SPA laboratory, monitors seizures to identify current and emerging trends, and progresses enquiries into the supply and production of NPS and their component parts throughout Europe and the world - which ultimately end up on the streets of Scotland.

NPS, such as “Benzos” and “Spice”, are substances capable of producing a psychoactive effect in anyone who consumes them, and are generally intended to copy the effects of illegal drugs.

Crudely manufactured with no regulation, the strength of these substances, even those contained in similarly branded products, can vary greatly. The effects can be stronger than the illegal drugs they mimic, and the side effects are unpredictable.

nps manufacturing

The Act introduced a blanket ban and created criminal offences for various activities such as the production, supply and importation of NPS for human consumption. Prior to the new legislation, approximately 90 legal high stores or headshops were operating in Scotland, but NPS were also being openly sold at music festivals, newsagents and even from a furniture shop. The new legislation closed much of this activity down - but new iterations of NPS are still appearing on the streets and are still causing harm.


Such is the effect some NPS are having on communities, two groups were recently reclassified to give officers greater powers to stop, search and seize these substances and introduce higher penalties for offenders. Synthetic Cannabinoids - sometimes marketed as Exodus Damnation or “Spice” - were last year reclassified as a Class B drug following a surge in use in England. Most recently, benzodiazepines or “Benzos”, were reclassified as a Class C drug to address the harm these substances were causing, particularly in the West of Scotland.

This change in the law was made following evidence presented to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in Westminster, prompted by a rise in hospital admissions and deaths in the West of Scotland. Some of the evidence included:

  • One Glasgow hospital reported treating six patients presenting with benzodiazepine issues a day, which could take a minimum of 12 hours to treat.
  • Between Jan 2015-Jun 2016 an 113% increase in traffic offences, as tested by SPA Forensic Services, with an 800% increase in cases involving Etizolam.
  • There were 706 drugs-related deaths in 2015 compared to 613 in 2014.
  • Benzodiazepines were present in 191 of the deaths in 2015 compared to 121 in 2014.

While the bulk of the Unit’s work is assisting local policing divisions, its investigations also extend beyond Scotland’s borders. It is heavily involved in work with Europol in relation to substances used to make NPS and tracking the distribution network of ingredients that make up the finished products. Police Scotland is also jointly leading other Member States in looking at the availability and use of portable detection equipment across the EU to identify NPS as it appears at customs and borders.

DI Ian Spence, said, “The market in synthetic drugs and NPS is the most dynamic in Europe, seeing over 419 new NPS products in the last five years. The NPS Investigation Unit works closely with the Scottish Police Authority lab to continue to identify any new NPS emerging in our communities and I would ask all police officers to ensure they are aware of current legislation in relation to NPS.

“We are committed to working with local policing divisions and with partner agencies to gather intelligence, enforce the law and prevent the harm NPS cause to our communities.”

Whatever your view is on drugs, they can be very dangerous to your health and CAN KILL.

The advice of Police Scotland is straightforward – DON’T TAKE DRUGS.

There is no ‘safe’ way to take drugs – there is always a risk. The only way of staying safe is to avoid drugs altogether.

How can I keep myself safe?

  • If you think you could be pressurised into taking drugs, plan what you will say and do if you’re offered drugs before it happens.
  • Make an excuse not to be given the drug.If you’re offered or given the drug then don’t take it.
  • Encourage any friend you’re with not to take the drug.
  • If you have taken a drug and feel unwell then seek urgent medical advice.
  • If you are a young person then tell someone responsible about what happened.
Read more on our Keep Safe page on Substance Misuse