University of Maryland Center Receives $3+ Million from NIH to Bolster National Drug Surveillance System

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Data from New System Will Inform Rapid and Effective Public Health Responses

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The University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) will receive five years of funding—approximately more than $3 million—from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, to develop an innovative National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS). This new system will monitor newly emerging trends that will enable public experts to respond quickly to potential outbreaks of illicit drugs such as heroin and identify increased use of designer synthetic compounds. The system will not only use traditional national- and regional-level data resources, but will also scan social media and Web platforms to identify new trends in potentially harmful drug use.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to work with NIDA on this important project. NDEWS promises to provide the country with critically needed real-time information about changing drug use patterns in communities across the country,” said lead investigator Dr. Eric Wish of CESAR. “It will utilize social media and other innovative technologies to identify emerging drugs and trends and to quickly disseminate important findings to experts and interested citizens. This opportunity builds on CESAR’s 20-plus years of experience monitoring and reporting on emerging drugs.”

Information about designer synthetic drugs – including different ways to possess and use them – is rapidly spread to millions of people through the Internet and social media. In addition, other drug trends may quickly change – an example is the recent increases in heroin use among many regions across the country. However, traditional methods to monitor drug trends may not ask about emerging drugs, do not always provide information about the types of drugs used at the community level, and may take a year or more to collect and report information.

Currently, NIDA conducts regional-level surveillance on drug use through the Community Epidemiology Work Group (CEWG) network, which analyzes research data from various other sources and summarizes this information in semiannual reports from major metropolitan areas around the United States. To expand upon these efforts and produce an enhanced national system, NDEWS will rely on a virtual community - a network of addiction experts across the country who will regularly communicate with each other to:

  •     Detect emerging drug trends using national data sources (existing surveys, various drug-related listservs and networks, and social media and web scans).
  •     Monitor drug trends at multiple regional sites around the country using many of the national and local data sources that were utilized by CEWG but also including innovative sources, such as poison center calls.
  •     Dispatch a rapid response team at “Hot Spots” - local areas with reported rapid increases in emerging drugs. This team will assess the outbreak and collect anonymous samples – provided by criminal justice drug testing programs – for enhanced analysis that includes testing for synthetic drug metabolites.
  •     Quickly disseminate information to the public using traditional and social media, websites, publications and newsletters.

“NDEWS will generate critically needed information about new drug trends in specific locations around the country so that rapid, informed, and effective public health responses can be developed precisely where needed,” said NIDA director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. “By monitoring trends at the local level, we hope to prevent emerging drug problems from escalating or spreading to surrounding regions.”

The five-year project begins in August. For more information on the current system, CEWG, please go to:

Development of NDEWS will be funded under DA038360.


The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) at the University of Maryland is dedicated to addressing the problems substance abuse creates for individuals, families and communities. CESAR informs policymakers, practitioners and the general public about substance abuse—its nature and extent, its prevention and treatment, and its relation to other problems. CESAR conducts policy-relevant research and evaluation studies, disseminates statistical and other information, assists in training students in substance abuse research methods and policy analysis, and provides technical assistance to agencies and organizations working in substance abuse related fields.

To learn more about CESAR’s innovative testing to find synthetic marijuana use in local criminal justice populations, visit To view the CESAR FAX Synthetic Cannabinoid Series, visit:

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Graham Binder
University Of Maryland
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