Abuse of Prescription Drugs in the Context of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS): A Systematic Review

Fabrizio Schifano, Stefania Chiappini, John Corkery, Amira Guirguis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
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Recently, a range of prescription and over-the-counter drugs have been reportedly used as Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), due to their potential for abuse resulting from their high dosage/idiosyncratic methods of self-administration. This paper provides a systematic review of the topic, focusing on a range of medications which have emerged as being used recreationally, either on their own or in combination with NPS. Among gabapentinoids, pregabalin may present with higher addictive liability levels than gabapentin, with pregabalin being mostly identified in the context of opioid, polydrug intake. For antidepressants, their dopaminergic, stimulant-like, bupropion activities may explain their recreational value and diversion from the therapeutic intended use.
In some vulnerable clients, a high dosage of venlafaxine (‘baby ecstasy’) is ingested for recreational purposes, whilst the occurrence of a clinically-relevant withdrawal syndrome may be a significant issue for all venlafaxine-treated patients. Considering second generation antipsychotics, olanzapine
appears to be ingested at very large dosages as an ‘ideal trip terminator’, whilst the immediate-release quetiapine formulation may possess proper abuse liability levels. Within the image- and performance enhancing drugs (IPEDs) group, the beta-2 agonist clenbuterol (‘size zero pill’) is reported to be self-administered for aggressive slimming purposes. Finally, high/very high dosage ingestion of the antidiarrhoeal loperamide has shown recent increasing levels of popularity due to its central recreational, anti-withdrawal, opiatergic effects. The emerging abuse of prescription drugs within the context of a rapidly modifying drug scenario represents a challenge for psychiatry, public health and drug-control policies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number73
Number of pages17
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2018


  • Drug abuse
  • Novel psychoactive substances
  • NPS
  • Pharmacovigilance
  • Prescribing drugs’ abuse


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