Evaluating and Expanding Knowledge and Awareness of Health Professionals on the Consumption and Adverse Consequences of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) Through Innovative Information Technologic Tools
Background: The rapid diffusion of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) constitutes an important challenge in terms of public health and a novelty in clinical settings, where these compounds may lead to erratic symptoms, unascertained effects and multi-intoxication scenarios, especially in emergency situations. The number of NPS available on the illicit drug market is astonishing: official reports suggest the appearance of a new drug every week. NPS may be enlisted in many different families such as synthetic phenethylamines, tryptamines, cathinones, piperazines, ketamine-like compounds, cannabimimetics and other plant-derived, medical products and derivatives. Therefore, healthcare services and professionals are often called to face this unknown “galaxy” where NPS users seem to perceive traditional services “unfitting” for their needs, requiring an attention which is quite different from known classic drug abusers. In this context, the Recreational Drugs’ European Network (ReDNet), a research project funded the European Commission and led by the University of Hertfordshire, aimed to explore the NPS galaxy and develop information tools for vulnerable individuals and professionals working with them. This initiative reported specific Technical Folders on new drugs and disseminated the collected information through innovative communication technologies (e.g. multimedia tools, social networking and mobile phone services) internationally. Aim and objectives: The aim of this work is to evaluate and contribute to expand the knowledge of health professionals on NPS. The key objectives are: 1) to assess the level of knowledge on NPS amongst a sample of Italian healthcare professionals; 2) to evaluate the effectiveness of dissemination tools developed by ReDNet, including an SMS-Email/mobile service (SMAIL); 3) to understand the clinical impact of NPS by providing four Technical Folders and collecting two clinical cases on NPS. Methodology: According to the objectives, the methodological approach has been articulated in the following three phases. Phase 1: investigating knowledge and preferred channels of information via an online survey among health professionals in Italy. This first Italian study on NPS awareness had been online from February to July 2011, recruiting participants from Departments of Addiction, Psychiatry and other services. Phase 2: evaluating the ReDNet initiative. An evaluation questionnaire was designed and disseminated online to assess the various resources provided by ReDNet project; it had been online from April to July 2013, targeting professionals registered to ReDNet services. This phase also investigated the SMAIL service, a mobile application that was the latest technological tool developed by ReDNet team. Phase 3: promoting evidence based work in clinical practice through the preparation of four Technical Folders and two case reports. Technical Folders followed the methodology optimised during the ReDNet experience, organising NPS data under specific headings, measured for the need of health professionals. Case reports were collected in a Dual Diagnosis Unit in Italy (“Casa di Cura Parco dei Tigli”); assessed patients revealed for the first time the use of NPS; clinical interviews were conducted to collect a full anamnesis while for the first time psychopathological characteristics were measured in NPS abusers, using a psychometric instrument (MMPI-2). Results: In Phase 1 Italian services, in particular interviewees (n=243) from Departments of Psychiatry and Addiction, showed a strong interest for the subject but a poor understanding of NPS: 26.7% of respondents did not know if their patients ever used NPS; at the same time they considered this phenomenon as very relevant to their profession (e.g. psychomotor agitation [75.7%], errors in the assessment [75.7%], management of the clients [72%]); in addition less of a quarter of them had reliable information on new substances. Interviewees also reported the need for easily accessible channels of information to expand their expertise in the field (including emails [70%] and dedicated websites [51.9%]). The ReDNet initiative (Phase 2) reached professionals (n=270) from European countries and various other regions; they appreciated the website above all (48.5%), which provided access to other information (in form of academic papers, news, technical folders, etc.). The integration of technological-based and classic educational resources was used to self-educate professionals (52.6%) and supply information for research (33.7%) with up-to-date and 3 reliable information; in the same Phase the SMAIL service was analysed in its first 557 searches: in the pilot period 122 professionals used SMS inquiries (95%), asking information on NPS while highlighting the increasing number of NPS available on the market. Technical folders (Phase 3) described two new phenethylamines (Bromo-dragonfly and 25I-NBOMe), a novel ethno drug (Kratom) and a new synthetic cathinone (alpha-PVP) whose severe effects were also described in one of the clinical cases. The first case report (Alice) involved a clubber who used mephedrone and other NPS with a severe worsening of her psychiatric disturbances; the second one (Marvin) described a patient who was referred by a psychiatric service and revealed himself as a “psychonaut” with an intense abuse of alpha-PVP. Conclusions: The exploration of the NPS galaxy is a new challenge for healthcare professionals. In this study, Italian services seemed to be unprepared to face the emergency and requested rapid access to reliable information; the ReDNet project provided both technology-based and traditional resources to expand knowledge on NPS, making professionals more aware of emerging issues and helping especially clinicians working in the field (e.g. via SMAIL service and Technical Folders). Overall, it can be observed that effective information services on NPS targeted at professionals initiatives should include an online interface integrating up-to-date information, describing NPS through specific Technical Folders and disseminating scientific literature; the use of technological tools, including mobile applications, is an important strategy to support health professionals in their activity. Finally, more “visual” guidelines, possibly in the form of a “map” of these heterogeneous compounds, could be a useful framework to describe NPS to physicians and other professionals who are often unprepared and unconfident to face such an expanding galaxy.