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£5 million Innovation Fund to reduce drug use

Five projects will receive part of £5 million innovation fund to test new ways to reduce use of so-called recreational drugs

  • On-the-ground projects include skills development and education for young people
  • Supports strategy to reduce drug use to a 30-year low and build a world-class knowledge base

Five projects aimed at reducing drug use have been awarded £734,000 of the first allocation of a £5 million grant, with the remaining funding available across two further phases.

As part of the government’s Drug Strategy Innovation Fund, Phase 1 will see the successful applicants begin the initial stage of their projects offering a range of education-based programmes, skills development for young people and community outreach.

Each project will receive initial funding to help develop interventions for evaluation. Those that are successful, and new projects, will be able to apply for further funding in Phase 2 which will launch later in the year to evaluate interventions over 12 months.

Projects for phase 1 are based in Huddersfield, Derbyshire, Manchester, Dorset and the South East of England and will include schemes tailored to meet local needs, including pop-up pods at festivals and events to educate people on the harms of using drugs – as well as workforce support to help young people develop personal and social skills to reduce vulnerability to illegal substance use.

Other projects include training programmes for night-time economy staff, such as people working in nightclubs, as well as experts from public health, voluntary services, the NHS and the police.

Health Minister Neil O’Brien said:

Stopping drug use in its tracks is essential to protecting people and the community from the harms caused by addiction, which has devastating impacts and drives half of all crime.

Projects like these will pave the way for new research into preventing drug addiction and enable us to meet our national strategy aim to cut drugs and crime.

This is part of government plans to reduce the demand for drugs and will decrease the number of people requiring treatment as well as drive down the illegal and exploitative supply chain, anti-social behaviour and wider crime.

The Department of Health and Social Care and the Joint Combating Drugs Unit – a cross governmental team based in the Home Office – have selected the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to lead the research bidding process.

The selection process focused on encouraging creativity and innovation from applicants – looking at prevention of experimental drug use or early intervention as a way to prevent people going on to problematic or dependent use in the future.

Projects showing to be successful after evaluation and implementation in specific areas will be considered for national roll out across the country to stop drug taking in its early stages. The results of the studies will also be used to build a world class evidence base on how to tackle drug use.

Professor Lucy Chappell, Scientific Advisor for the Department of Health and Social Care, NIHR Chief Executive Officer, said:

This is a really positive step towards expanding the evidence base on this important issue. I hope that the range of projects in this, and future phases, will identify effective interventions that can have a real impact across the country in the future. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of these projects.

Projects were chosen following a competitive bidding process and passing an independent assessment committee made up of experts.

Successful projects

Zoë Welch, Head of Research, Change Grow Live said:

Change Grow Live, in partnership with Middlesex University, are delighted to have the support of the NIHR Innovation Fund to Reduce Demand for Illicit Substances to prepare our Derbyshire 1625 Outreach Service for evaluation.

1625 Outreach supports young people and young adults (aged 16-25) through place-based early interventions that improve knowledge and reduce demand and harm around substance use and associated risky behaviours.

The innovative multi-strand approach works across rural and urban settings in Derbyshire and Derby city offering education programmes, responsive outreach, a branded van and pop-up pod at festivals/events, digital interventions, and night-time economy staff training.

Our aim is to prepare 1625 Outreach for robust evaluation through literature review, stakeholder feedback, data linkage and creative methods to capture process and outcomes. We will use desk research, PPI, stakeholder consultation, and county-wide collaboration to refine the model and develop a framework to evaluate the different strands of outreach activity.

Professor Michael Doyle, Professor in Mental Health Research, University of Huddersfield said:

We are excited to start work on our project to reduce demand for illicit substances in young people through co-production, skills training and early intervention. As researchers at the University of Huddersfield, we are looking forward to working in partnership with young people and a multi-agency team of practitioners and experts from public health, voluntary services, the NHS, the police and education.

We hope that getting input from all these stakeholders will help us develop learning resources that help young people build the skills they need, raise awareness and improve understanding to support positive lifestyle choices and reduce risky behaviours, including the use of illicit substances.

Fiona Spargo-Mabbs, CEO, Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation said:

We’re very excited to have secured Phase 1 of this funding, to work with Middlesex University Drug and Alcohol Research Centre team led by Prof Betsy Thom, to develop and refine the DSM Foundation’s existing universal, multi-component drug education programme. Drug use often begins during adolescence, a period of life when attitudes and behaviours are emerging, and therefore have potential to be influenced before becoming established.

There is evidence to show a multi-component approach to drug education can increase its effectiveness in preventing or delaying the onset of drug use in adolescence, but recent research is lacking, so we’re keen to establish what works, how and why.

We’ll be engaging key stakeholders’ insights through surveys and focus groups, including young people and parents, as well as revisiting our current programme theory. By the end of this project we will have developed and refined our existing programme, and produced an evaluation strategy and methodology, ready for delivery and evaluation with young people aged 13–15 in a range of schools in Phase 2.

Dr William Floodgate, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Manchester

Our project will refine a new evidence-based, harm reduction-focused drugs education programme called The Staying Safe Programme (TSSP) so that it can be rolled out to universities across the UK. TSSP has been designed to reduce the demand for drugs among university students by equipping young adults with the knowledge required to reduce harms associated with recreational drug use, by deterring or delaying the onset of drug use, or by preventing the transition to heavy, or problematic use.

We will use a range of methods to establish the appropriateness of TSSP, its in-built assessment of learning, and the effects of TSSP on the students who complete it.

The core research team consists of Dr William Floodgate, Professor Judith Aldridge, & Lydia Swan (University of Manchester), and at the University of South Wales, Professor Katy Holloway and Shannon Murray. Collaborators include: Professor Adam Winstock, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Universities UK.”

Claire Shiels, Corporate Director of Commissioning & Partnerships, Dorset Council

The partnership in Dorset is absolutely delighted to be successful in this Phase 1 bid to test interventions that will help our workforce support young people to develop personal and social skills interventions that seek to reduce their vulnerability to illegal substance use and to develop effective communications with communities about the social impact of illegal substance use.

Active collaboration between researchers, skilled practitioners, children, young people and parents and parents and carers are central to our programme and we believe this is an excellent opportunity to make a real difference.  This work will be part of our local Combatting Drugs strategy and is an active collaboration between two local councils – Dorset and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP), the local health system and the police.

Notes to editors

  • The innovation fund is being run over three phases: Phase 1 (development), Phase 2 (evaluation), and Phase 3 (implementation). It will have up to £5m funding available over its three phases.
  • The application window for Phase 1 proposals closed in October 2022. Projects will start in March 2023 and are due to complete in September 2023.
  • Phase 2 will open for bids in 2023, and proposals can be for up to £500,000 over 12 months. We expect Phase 3 to open for bids in 2025: proposals put forward in this phase can be for up to £500,000 over 10 months.
  • Successful proposals at Phase 1 can apply for Phase 2 and (if successful) Phase 3 funding.  However, new proposals can directly apply for Phase 2 funding and Phase 3 funding.
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