National Early Warning Systems

Considerations, stakeholders and communication

On a national level it is very important to have the capacity to collect credible and reliable data to develop national early warning systems. This allows countries to detect problems earlier and to be better prepared to identify threats and put in place evidence-based solutions.  
The structures of early warning systems differ between countries and should be designed to meet local needs in terms of institutional structure, social characteristics and national drug use patterns. Although some early warning systems function without a formal framework, many national systems operate under a legal framework which defines the role of the system, determines the tasks of the various stakeholders and provides a legal basis for information sharing.
Participation in early warning networks can vary from informal phone calls or email exchanges to official communication in a standardized format. For a well-functioning early warning mechanism, real-time communication is necessary to facilitate cooperation and information-sharing. This can be achieved through formal or informal channels including dedicated virtual platforms and requires close collaboration and trust among stakeholders and the establishment of protocols to deal with sensitive, confidential and classified information.

Communication and knowledge-sharing between various experts in the network, such as forensic personnel, law enforcement officers, first responders and health care professionals, is also essential, as a multidisciplinary approach has proven invaluable in analysing information and decision-making for further action.
National early warning systems are commonly hosted by an institution such as the national drug observatory, or equivalent, which acts as a focal point for collecting, analysing, enriching and transforming information to allow for sharing among a diverse range of stakeholders.
National early warning systems should also contribute to regional mechanisms as well as international early warning systems such as the UNODC Early Warning Advisory on NPS

Support for the establishment of national early warning systems

UNODC, together with the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission of the Organization of American States and the EU’s European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, supports the establishment and development of national early warning systems in Latin American countries. 
The COPOLAD cooperation programme between the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the European Union aims to help forge drug policies which are supported by objective monitoring instruments and based on reliable and effective strategies in order to reduce drugs supply and demand and the social and health-related risks and harms caused by drug use. As part of this programme, COPALAD developed a manual to promote and facilitate the establishment of early warning systems which provides a generic model for an early warning system that each country can adapt to its unique situation and specific needs.

The role of drug analysis laboratories in early warning systems

Dataflow from laboratory analysis to action in an early warning system

Drug analysis laboratories play a key role in functioning early warning systems as they analyse drug seizures and provide essential information to detect, identify and report NPS.  The analyses of toxicological laboratories can also provide confirmatory data on medical events occurring from the use of substances and their harms.


More resources and tools for forensic laboratories can be found in the Forensic Module