Analysis of Google Trends to monitor new psychoactive substance. Is there an added value?


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Analysis of Google Trends to monitor new psychoactive substance. Is there an added value?
Forensic Science International
Batistic Frana-Katica, Rhumorbarbe Damien, Lefrancois Elodie, Tettey Justice, Raithelhuber Martin, Rossy Quentin, Morelato Marie
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The past decade has seen an increase in the development and availability of a broad category of drugs, known as new psychoactive substances (NPS). NPS are challenging for public health authorities, therefore the two major drug monitoring bodies – the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) – have implemented the EU Early Warning System (EWS) and Early Warning Advisory (EWA), respectively. While these monitoring systems are informative, it is difficult to keep up with the constant and rapid developmental rate of NPS. The EMCDDA has recognised the need for an alternative and technologically derived early warning system. The aim of this research is to determine whether Google Trends and drug discussion forum data can be used to complement early warning systems for NPS. Forty-eight substances were used in this study and classed into groups based on their chemical structure, following the UNODC classification system. Google Trends data (time range: 2004–2019) and drug forum data (time range: 2003–2018) were extracted for each substance and visual trend profiles were created for class groups as well as individual substances. Analysis was conducted to determine when a substance first appeared on Google Trends and a drug discussion forum as well as their trends over time. This date of first appearance was then compared to the date the substance was first reported to UNODC. Of the three data sources utilised, substances were most likely to appear on Google Trends first. Amongst the different classes of NPS, discernible trends (‘block’, ‘successive’, and ‘generational’ trends) were observed. These trends reflect the evolution of the manufacture of substances or generations of substances that has been observed in the literature. For example, in the synthetic cannabinoids’ category, a generational trend is observed that corresponds to the different generations of synthetic cannabinoids. When comparing Google Trends and Drugs-Forum directly, the order of appearance and duration of presence for substances aligns accurately for most classes. Google Trends showed the emergence, persistence, or transient nature of substances, which could direct the focus of law enforcement, health organisation and laboratory resources towards a limited number of substances. When one considers the reliance of individual information seeking on the Web as well as the prominence of NPS on the Web, it becomes clear that Google Trends and drug discussion forums could be used as a complement to current early warning systems.
Discussion forum, Early warning system, Threat detection, Web, Internet
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27/07/2021 8:14
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28/07/2021 7:10
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