New psychoactives within polydrug use trajectories—evidence from a mixed‐method longitudinal study

Kathryn Higgins, Nina O'Neill, Leeanne O'Hara, Julie-Ann Jordan, Mark McCann, Tara O'Neill, Mike Clarke, Francis O'Neill, Grace Kelly, Anne Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
52 Downloads (Pure)


To provide public health-related research evidence on types and usage patterns of new psychoactive substances (NPS), developmental pathways into NPS and decision-making factors for, and associated harms of, NPS use.

Three-phase mixed-methods design, including a latent class analysis (LCA) of the longitudinal Belfast Youth Development Study (BYDS), a narrative analysis of interviews with NPS users and a three-step approach manual method modelling using regressions to reveal classes of substance use and their associated predictors and outcomes.

Northern Ireland.

A total of 2039 people who responded to the questions on ‘ever use’ of the drug variables included at wave 7 (aged 21 years) of the BYDS. Eighty-four narrative interviews with NPS users.

Categories of drug use identified by LCA. Predictors and outcomes included measures of family, partners, peers, substance use, school, delinquency and mental health.

A four-class solution provided the best fit for the data: alcohol; alcohol and tobacco; alcohol, tobacco and cannabis; and polydrug (the latter including NPS). The qualitative analysis yielded a taxonomy that distinguished how NPS operate within a wider range of drug repertoires from experimental to problematic.

In Northern Ireland, new psychoactive substances appear to be a feature of broader polydrug use rather than a standalone class of drug use.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2454-2462
Number of pages9
Issue number9
Early online date28 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR Ref 14/153/01). M.McC. was funded by the Medical Research Council and Scotland's Chief Scientist Office. We would like to thank the National Institute for Health Research for their generous support. M.McC. was supported by MRC Strategic Partnership award MC/PC/13027 and by the MRC and Chief Scientist Office through the Complexity in Health Improvement programme MC/UU/12017/14; SPHSU14.

Publisher Copyright: © 2021 The Authors. Addiction published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Society for the Study of Addiction

Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Legal highs
  • mephedrone
  • new psychoactive substances
  • risk
  • synthetic cannabinoids
  • taxonomy


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