New Psychoactive Substances – Local Early Warning System


During the past few years there has been an increasing number of anecdotal reports of incidents relating to the use of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), sometimes referred to as ‘legal highs’. These incidents are usually based on concerns regarding an individual’s health, because they are feeling ill after NPS use or they have become sick or even collapsed and been hospitalised. Alternatively it may be about an individual’s anti-social or other behaviours exhibited whilst they are under the influence of NPS.

These reports are coming from a range of agencies with concerns for both young people, young adults and others. These include schools and school nurses, the Youth Justice Service, Sheffield Futures, City Centre Ambassadors, Safer Neighbourhood Teams, substance misuse services, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield City Council Licencing, Trading Standards and South Yorkshire Police.

In 2011 South Yorkshire Police recored 6 incidents relating to NPS use, by 2014 this figure had increased to 465. The increasing availability and popularity of NPS in Sheffield has led to a multi-agency response and the development of a local NPS Strategy and Delivery Plan.

In an attempt to gather more information about problematic NPS use in the city the DACT is starting to gather information about major NPS incidents from all professional sources. A report can be logged to our Local Early Warning System (LEWS) using the attached Reporting Form under the following circumstances:

  • A person becomes physically ill under the influence of a NPS
  • A person collapses or becomes unconsious under the influence of a NPS
  • A professional has concerns over the behaviour of an individual under the influence of a NPS
  • A person becomes aggressive or violent under the influence of a NPS

A LEWS procedure already exists in Sheffield, but this has previously only been used to report concerns relating to specific batches of illegal drugs. For example if intelligence is received that a particualr batch of a controlled drug contained a particularly toxic adulterant that is making people ill or a batch of a street drug is very pure and the strength is increasing accidental overdoses. In these cases, following a verification of the information, the DACT will send out a drugs alert to all relevant agencies.

What information is gathered and what happens to the information we collect?

All information gathered is anonymous, we are not interested in any identifying factors. We are interested in the gender of the person or people involved and whether they are young people under the age of 18 or an adult. If they are a young person under the age of 18, it would be useful to know their age, if this is known. We are more interested in a name and description of the NPS taken, where the incident occurred and what happened. It would also be useful to know where the user got their NPS from, if this is known.

The DACT is also interested in whether these incidents are using Sheffield’s resourses in dealing with the incidents. We would therefore like to know whether the police were called out to the incident, whether someone concerned in the incident was hospitalised and whether an ambulance was called. We also want to know who is completing the form, what their job is and if they have taken any further actions relating to the incident, for example a Children’s Safeguarding referral or issuing a Legal Highs Advisory Letter.

The information will be kept securely by the DACT and collated and initially presented back to the partner agencies who are members of the Sheffield Multi-Agency NPS Group including various departments of Sheffield City Council, South Yorkshire Police and young people’s and adult substance misuse services and then to any relevant party. As no personal information is kept there are no issues around compliance with the Data Protection Act.

The DACT will attempt to analyse patterns of NPS use across the city and use this intelligence to better inform the city’s response to the increasing NPS problem. If a pattern develops that shows concerns about a particular batch of a product, then the DACT will issue a Drugs Alert using the same process that they do with illegal drugs.

How to Report an NPS Incident to LEWS

As a professional, if you come across the type of NPS incident stated above please report the incident to the DACT via the LEWS reporting form (link can be found below):

NPS LEWS Reporting Form

If you are a member of staff in a school you may anonymise and copy your usual ‘Record of incident involving an unauthorised drug’ form and forward this to the LEWS as it contains roughly the same information. For everyone else, please complete as much information on the LEWS reporting form as possible and send the information to the DACT in one of the following ways:

Telephone on (0114) 2736810 (be prepared to give all of the relevant information from the form over the telephone).

Or in the post to:


Sheffield Drug and Alcohol Co-ordination Team

Floor 9, East Wing,

Moorfoot Building

Sheffield, S1 4PL

Or by simply attaching it to an email to:

And writing ‘LEWS Report’ in the Subject Box.

If you would like any further information about the LEWS process and the gathering of information about NPS please contact:

Simon Finney, Criminal Justice Services Manager, Sheffield DACT on (0114) 2053672 or