The Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) annual National Drug Control Strategy emphasized the need for the United States to develop a rapid and low‐cost system for identifying emerging drugs at the local community level. This need became even more critical with the advent of a prescription drug epidemic and the rapid development of new psychoactive substances (NPS) such as synthetic cannabinoids (SCs). In a period when chemists can quickly change the chemical makeup of the synthetic drugs they produce in order to stay ahead of the law, the typical users of synthetic drugs do not know, and cannot accurately report, the specific psychoactive substance that they took. It was therefore critical that any new system test biologic specimens to determine the specific drugs taken.
With constrained federal and local budgets and rapidly shifting drug trends, a useful drug use monitoring system also needed to be capable of rapidly responding to newly available drugs and producing results quickly at minimal cost. To that end, staff at the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) worked with ONDCP to test the feasibility of the Community Drug Early Warning System (CDEWS).
CDEWS staff worked with testing programs at criminal justice agencies and hospitals to obtain samples of urine specimens that were ready to be discarded. These de-identified specimens were then sent to the collaborating CDEWS laboratory to test for an expanded panel of over 150 licit and illicit drugs, including opioids, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, synthetic cannabinoids, and other NPSs. The first CDEWS study was completed in September 2013 and the last study was completed in October 2019.
The Community Drug Early Warning System (CDEWS) project was funded by the Executive Office of the President, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). The information and opinions expressed herein are the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of ONDCP or any agency of the Federal Government.