Can Artificial Intelligence Predict the Next Dangerous Street Drug?

Can Artificial Intelligence Predict the Next Dangerous Street Drug?

Addiction specialists, medical providers, and law enforcement are constantly on the lookout for the next new and dangerous designer drug.

They maintain this vigilance, hoping that catching it soon after its release onto the streets will save lives.

Researchers at the University of Alberta are trying to go a step further.

They’re training computers to create an algorithm called DarkNPS that identifies potential designer drugs often before they come into existence.

According to a recent article in Scientific American:

…the algorithm could help law enforcement and forensic chemists identify novel psychoactive substances — a process that could otherwise take up to several months. DarkNPS may also highlight beneficial new compounds for clinical use. And, according to Wishart (a lead researcher on the project), there is another advantage: Governments could go through the cache of hypothetical drugs DarkNPS developed and ban them, even before anyone actually produces or distributes them.[i]

In fact, there is some indication that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, and the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany are already testing the algorithm.

Might this effort help in the battle to curb drug abuse?

Many are skeptical for two reasons:

  • The program will do little to stem the tide of overdose deaths in the U.S. and worldwide.
  • The algorithm will have difficulty predicting completely novel new drugs.

And here’s another reason to be skeptical. DarkNPS has already produced a list of 8.9 million new compounds that could be created by modifying existing drugs.

One hopeful bit of news from the project…the program does seem to have some ability to predict which new drug compounds are most likely to appear on our streets.

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[i] https://www.scientificamerican…