Novel psychoactive substances: An investigation of temporal trends in social media and electronic health records


Background Public health monitoring is commonly undertaken in social media but has never been combined with data analysis from electronic health records. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between the emergence of novel psychoactive substances (NPS) in social media and their appearance in a large mental health database. Methods Insufficient numbers of mentions of other NPS in case records meant that the study focused on mephedrone. Data were extracted on the number of mephedrone (i) references in the clinical record at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, London, UK, (ii) mentions in Twitter, (iii) related searches in Google and (iv) visits in Wikipedia. The characteristics of current mephedrone users in the clinical record were also established. Results Increased activity related to mephedrone searches in Google and visits in Wikipedia preceded a peak in mephedrone-related references in the clinical record followed by a spike in the other 3 data sources in early 2010, when mephedrone was assigned a ‘class B’ status. Features of current mephedrone users widely matched those from community studies. Conclusions Combined analysis of information from social media and data from mental health records may assist public health and clinical surveillance for certain substance-related events of interest. There exists potential for early warning systems for health-care practitioners.

European Psychiatry
Leon Derczynski
Leon Derczynski
Associate professor

My research interests include NLP for misinformation detection and verification, clinical record processing, online harms, and efficient AI.