U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Fighting the Uphill War Against Illicit Drugs and Overdose Deaths: Detecting Emerging Designer Drugs and Opioid Analogs

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2023

This article discusses the National Institute of Justice's NPS Discovery program's efforts to screen all drug samples sent to it for identification and toxicity, focusing on opioids laced with the fentanyl and nitazene analogs, and discusses the emergence and development of the illicit drug trade.


According to the CDC, there were an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2021, an increase of nearly 15% from the 93,655 deaths estimated in 2020. Of the 2021 deaths, almost 81,000 were attributable to opioids, primarily fentanyl. The CDC notes that deaths from “psychostimulants,” such as Ecstasy and cocaine, also increased in 2021 compared to 2020. The NIJ-supported NPS Discovery, run by the Center for Forensic Science and Research Education, serves as a drug early warning system for public health officials, emergency room physicians, crime labs, law enforcement agencies, and others. NPS Discovery screens all the drug samples sent to the program for identification and toxicity. While they examine a wide range of drugs, including the new wave of designer drugs, the focus is on the opioids laced with the fentanyl and nitazene analogs, which have higher risks of killing people

Date Published: September 1, 2023