Short bio

After completing my thesis at the National Institute for Criminology and Criminalistics, my passion for research, particularly in the field of drugs of abuse, took root. My thesis focused on developing and validating a method for analysing volatile components. Following this, I completed my studies in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Ghent and joined Sciensano.

At Sciensano, I coordinated the Scanner project, which explored the dynamics of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in the online market. This experience taught me a lot about working with different countries and the challenges that come with it. The project aimed to inform evidence-based responses to drugs, covering topics like into the impact of legislation on the drug market, the evaluation of analysis of NPS within drug checking services, the evaluation of fentanyl test strips as harm reduction tool and standardization of collection of data on NPS amongst civil society organisations.

Simultaneously, I became involved with the Belgian Early Warning System on Drugs (BEWSD), where I currently co-coordinate. The BEWSD is part of a larger European network monitoring emerging drugs and trends. Our findings are used to rapidly detect, assess and respond to potential public health risks, to support hospitals, laboratories, harm reduction services and policy makers in their tasks and to strengthen their awareness and preparedness towards drugs-related problems. Output of the BEWSD is multi-disciplinary and consists of, however is not limited to, factsheets on new drugs, input for adaptation of the Belgian legislation, working groups on specific topics, research projects involving stakeholders and webinars/ presentations on the drug situation.

In addition to BEWSD, I contributed to various projects within the Illicit Drugs Unit, involving tasks like data cleaning for DrugVibes, data analysis for the yearly reporting towards EMCDDA, literature review for a Foresight exercise on the Afghanistan ban and field work for the PRS-20 project.

One standout project is RADAR-heroin-23, initiated in 2023. This project aimed to provide information on retail-level heroin in Belgium. I managed the project from start to finish, conducting a cross-sectional study to understand drug purity, pharmacological properties, and gather epidemiological data. This included drawing up the study design, collaborating with grassroots organizations, gaining approval of the ethical commission, setting up the questionnaire, data cleaning and analysis and disseminating on the results.

This project significantly enhanced my research skills, fuelling my interest in more extensive research projects. Pursuing a PhD is the next step in growing my research abilities and advancing my career in the field. The PhD will focus on advancing drug monitoring in Belgium: towards a multi-indicator approach for enhanced and more rapid information distribution, stakeholder engagement and evidence-informed decision making.

Work details

Selected societal impact activities

  • Science meets policy 2023: Presentation on ‘science meets policy: current dilemmas
  • Masterclass Safe ‘n Sound: the future of recreational drugs: trends, consequences and responsibility
  • EMCDDA4GE – Expert for workshop on the development of the Georgian national early warning system.

Selected media

Selected events


  • Illicit drugs
  • Risk assessment
  • Monitoring and trend analysis

Selected projects


Selected publications

Balcaen, M., Ventura, M., Gil, C., Luf, A., Martins, D., Cunha, M., Tögel-Lins, K., Wolf, D., Blanckaert, P., & Deconinck, E. (2023). Challenges in Drug Surveillance: Strengthening the Analysis of New Psychoactive Substances by Harmonizing Drug Checking Services in Proficiency Testing. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(5), Article 5.

Deconinck, E., Lievens, S., Canfyn, M., Van Campenhout, P., Debehault, L., Gremaux, L., & Balcaen, M. (2024). Full Characterisation of Heroin Samples Using Infrared Spectroscopy and Multivariate Calibration. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 29(5), 1116.

Deconinck, E., Polet, M. A., Canfyn, M., Duchateau, C., De Braekeleer, K., Van Echelpoel, R., De Wael, K., Gremeaux, L., Degreef, M., & Balcaen, M. (n.d.). Evaluation of an electrochemical sensor and comparison with spectroscopic approaches as used today in practice for harm reduction in a festival setting—A case study: Analysis of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine samples. Drug Testing and Analysis, n/a(n/a).