Everyone has heard of fentanyl. The synthetic opioid is 50-100 times more potent than heroin, and has become increasingly popular among opioid users and dealers.

But fentanyl isn’t just one drug: it comes in many different forms with slightly different chemical compositions, which makes it hard for law enforcers to identify and control. And that problem is at the core of the opioid crisis. But luckily, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the German Federal Criminal Police Office (the Bundeskriminalamt, or BKA) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency have gotten together to come up with a possible solution.

The groups have created a web database of illegal narcotics and all their chemical compositions so that police and first responders can quickly identify them.

"If people start overdosing and dying from a new drug analog, authorities need to identify it as quickly as possible," said Aaron Urbas, the NIST research chemist who led the project. "If you want to focus your resources effectively, you need to know what you're looking for."

The site is called the NPS (Novel Psychoactive Substance) Data Hub. It aims to get identification data to forensic scientists as quickly as possible. It identifies synthetic opioids as well as other sorts of synthetic drugs including synthetic cannabinoids and amphetamines.

Underground chemists are constantly developing new forms of drugs to both make drugs stronger and stay ahead of the law. It takes roughly six months for the good guys to identify the new drug normally. So hopefully the NPS Data Hub will help them catch up and get these dangerous substances off the streets.

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