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The article presents a systematic literature review on the use and the psychiatric implications of over-the-counter drugs (OTC), prescription-only-medications (POM), and new psychoactive substances (NPS) within custodial settings. The searches wer carried out on 2 November 2022 on PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science in line with PRISMA guidelines. A total of 538 records were identified, of which 37 met the inclusion criteria. Findings showed the most prevalent NPS and OTC and POM classes reported in prisons were synthetic cannabinoids receptor agonists (SCRAs) and opioids, respectively. NPS markets were shown to be in constant evolution following the pace of legislations aimed to reduce their spread. The use of such substances heavily impacts the conditions and rehabilitation of persons in custody, with consequent physical and mental health risks. It is important to raise awareness of the use and misuse of such substances in prisons (i) from an early warning perspective for law enforcement and policy makers (ii) to prompt doctors to cautiously prescribe substances that may be misused (iii) to improve and increase access to treatment provided (iv) to add such substances to routine toxicological screening procedures (v) to improve harm reduction programmes.

Original publication




Journal article


Neurosci Biobehav Rev

Publication Date





Abuse, Custodial setting, Drug abuse, Drug misuse, Inmates, NPS, New psychoactive substances, OTC, POM, Prisoners, Humans, Psychotropic Drugs, Substance-Related Disorders, Nonprescription Drugs, Prisons, Prescription Drugs, Prisoners