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I-TREND project

Research Problem | Objectives | Activities

The overview of the project is available HERE.

Research Problem

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Coordinated by the OFDT in France, the project involved 4 other European partners: CUNI University in the Czech Republic, the TRIMBOS Institute in the Netherlands, SWPS University in Poland, and LJMU in the United Kingdom. The overarching goal of the I-TREND project (2013-2015) was to help prevent health and social harms linked to New/Novel Psychoactive Substances, or ‘New Synthetic Drugs’ (NPS), while also informing the response to emerging risks.

To date, information about the NPS phenomenon has been collected through traditional information systems on drugs and drug addiction, such as data on drug seizures and hospital treatment demands, monitoring in a recreational settings, and so forth. To develop a better understanding of the current risks and challenges associated with NPS, there was a need for new monitoring methods.

These NPS substances are popularly referred to as ‘legal highs’ or ‘designer drugs’. They are widely available on the Internet. See section “Popular NPS” for further information and definition.


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The first main objective was to develop a methodology to select the most widely circulated NPS. The list of these circulating NPS (3-MMC, 3,4-DMMC, 4-FA, 4-HO-MET, 4-MEC, 5F-PB-22, 5-MeO-DALT, 6-APB, Alpha-PVP, AM-2201, AMT, Brephedrone, Ethcathinone, MDPBP, Methylone, MPA, MPPP, PBP, Pentedrone, UR-144) was called "Top List" and has been set up for each participant country, according to its national data. Determining those NPS was perceived as an important stake, because in the context where a rapidly growing number of NPS are identified each year, it was a way to concentrate efforts and resources on these selected NPS. The output of the project was to provide information on these specific substances via 29 technical folders describing each selected NPS.

Setting-up the suitable tools and methodologies for each activities took on a rather important role in the project as the first step for other activities, but also as an independent objective.


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The study comprised five distinct but interconnected project activities – referred to as “workstreams” or WS, each complementing the others and, to an extent, influencing one another’s methodology. The activity called “Workstream 5” reflects the main objective (to determine which substances are the most popular and to document them). Due to this central position in the project, it is at the same type the starting point and the achievement of the I-TREND methodology.

WS1. Monitoring user forums, with both qualitative and quantitative methods: in order to achieve this objective, complex methods had to be designed, firstly to measure levels of interest among NPS users and, secondly, to enable qualitative analysis of forum content. Data had to be extracted from forums, then prepared and analysed. Lastly, software was developed for automated quantitative data extraction and processing, together with an interface to display charts on demand.

WS2. Monitoring online shops: a market study was conducted to find an available software suited to the purpose of the project. It then appeared necessary to develop an in-house software program to identify shops, and another to extract data. Shops were analysed in order to identify those targeting partner countries and some were selected for monitoring. The data were then extracted and analysed.

WS3. An online survey among NPS users without a sample frame was carried out. Communication on the survey was the main way to recruit respondents.

WS4. Monitoring of substance content: sample purchase and toxicological analysis. Purchases of the top-listed substances were processed for the web-shops selected in WS2 as the most relevant for a given country. Substances were then sent to toxicological laboratories for analysis.

WS5. Selecting of the most popular NPS circulating in each participating country (top list), including data collection for WS1, WS2 and WS4. This WS also included the creation of 29 technical folders on the 20 most popular NPS (3-MMC, 3,4-DMMC, 4-FA, 4-HO-MET, 4-MEC, 5F-PB-22, 5-MeO-DALT, 6-APB, Alpha-PVP, AM-2201, AMT, Brephedrone, Ethcathinone, MDPBP, Methylone, MPA, MPPP, PBP, Pentedrone, UR-144), mostly at national level, based on the literature and data collected in the context of other I-TREND activities.

Two programs have been developed for WS1 and WS2 centred on the monitoring of the demand (online board discussions dedicated to drugs) and the supply (online shops located on the surface web). It is possible to consult their handbooks, either for the monitoring of online discussion boards or for online shops. For each of them it is also possible to contact the researchers in charge of their development.

Implementation of the project faced three major challenges.