What works for drug-experienced young people? Building the evidence.

Raj Ubhi, our Director of Children and Young People Services, responds to our recent research funding award from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR):

Last year, the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) highlighted longstanding, system-wide challenges in evidencing both the prevalence of young people’s drug use and the effectiveness of treatment options.

The uncomfortable reality, as the ACMD has concluded in its report, is that research and data into what effective drug treatment looks like for young people (and young adults) is highly variable and of low quality.

This is significant as more young people are using drugs now than at any point over the last decade. The Government’s 10-year drug strategy ‘From Harm to Hope’ highlighted a key ambition of preventing the onset of drug misuse among children and young people.

If we are going to deliver this ambition, we need to develop a deeper understanding across the sector of young people’s substance use and the most effective interventions for reducing harm.

We’re starting a piece of work to explore exactly this challenge.

Our research project, funded by the NIHR will seek to understand the most effective ways to reduce demand for drugs among young people. It will look at how reducing demand can support improvements to wider health and social outcomes.

We will start by focussing specifically on 16 to 25 years old, as this age group has been underserved by research, policy and practice.

In partnership with Middlesex University, we’re starting this research in our Derbyshire 1625 service.

The service is focused on making ‘harm reduction’ support accessible by providing digital interventions and pop-up outreach at local festivals and other ‘hot-spot’ areas where recreational drug use is common. We’ve already seen early evidence that young people are engaging well with this approach.

The first phase of the research will begin in March and run for 6 months, focusing on understanding which  interventions most effectively promote behaviour change. The second phase (dependant on future funding) will focus on evaluating this approach across different projects.

What excites me most about this research is the opportunity to work with young people themselves, to help shape a blueprint for person-centred, evidence-based interventions. If we can, we may finally turn the tide on increasing substance use amongst our youth, safeguarding their futures in the process."