Consequences of novel psychoactive substance use

Exploring NPS use and its consequences for police practitioners and substance users in the North East of England.

Full report


This study aimed to understand the link between NPS use and offending behaviour via qualitative, experiential accounts obtained from police staff and NPS users based in the North East of England. The study was funded by N8 PRP 1st April 2016 – 30th April 2017.

Negative behavioural consequences of NPS use meant that NPS users frequently transgressed the law, were arrested and detained in police custody suites. The focus of our work was to find out how NPS use was impacting on police staff and also users within a custody suite setting. Interviews were undertaken with police staff and NPS users between June 2016-Sept 2016 after the Psychoactive Substance Act (May 2016).

Key findings

Police custody staff

  • Staff were concerned about NPS and how to manage and treat the user
  • Their experiences of users were that they could be extremely volatile in custody and this impacted on police staff/allocation of resources
  • Staff were concerned with managing risk to themselves and the user
  • NPS could cause unpredictable effects so users were still frequently transferred to AandE due to health concerns – creating a further resourcing challenge.
  • Staff expressed concern about polysubstance use (e.g. alcohol) and NPS
  • Concern was expressed about the vulnerability of some NPS users
  • The custody nurse was viewed as a valued asset

NPS users

  • NPS use increases risk taking behaviour and exposure to risk
  • Users felt NPS is highly addictive and linked to rapidly deteriorating health
  • NPS is impacting on the mental health of users
  • Users are not clear about where to go to access support reducing NPS use
  • Users reported being receptive to support with NPS in a custody suite setting


Research authored by: Addison, M. (Newcastle University), Stockdale, K. (Teeside University), McGovern, R. (Newcastle University), McGovern, W. (University of Northumbria), McKinnon, I. (Newcastle University/ Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS FT), Crowe, L. (Newcastle University), Hogan, L. (Northumbria Police) and Kaner, E. (Newcastle University)