On 12th October 2017, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) hosted our most recent Mentor-ADEPIS seminar, which focussed on New Psychoactive Substances or NPS (previously known as ‘legal highs’) so practitioners could improve their knowledge and develop the skills to evaluate the evidence for prevention and early intervention strategies.
Dr Paul Grey and Rob Ralphs are senior lecturers in Criminology at MMU who were commissioned by Manchester City Council to conduct research on New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) in the city. They presented on their research paper, ‘New Psychoactive Substance Use in Manchester: Prevalence, Nature, Challenges and Responses’. Grey and Ralphs collected data over a six-month period between January and June 2016, briefly monitoring the impact of the Psychoactive Substance Act that came into force on May 2016 and made the once-legal high street retail of NPS illegal.
This research is crucial as it investigates NPS misuse by sub-population, collecting information on a range of groups who often go unrepresented in national data sets: students, prisoners, homeless, men who have sex with men and clubbers. It can be useful for practitioners to look at the national picture; for instance, the Crime Survey for England & Wales (CSEW) is an annual resource that provides insight into drug prevalence among the general population. However, the CSEW data collection is conducted through household surveys; this leads to ethnographic disparities and several groups of people with high drug use are often missed, such as those who were surveyed as part of Grey and Ralphs’ research.
Local authorities and services should take an integrated approach when gathering data on NPS use to build a more comprehensive picture of drug use by sub-population. Ralphs et al’s research provided Manchester City Council with an invaluable insight into some of the behaviours of certain countercultures who often dissociate themselves with their drug use, building best practice and an integrated service approach. Past research can be used as a template to create regional evidence that feeds into national learning and development strategies.
How should we target young people to prevent NPS misuse?
The Centre for Analysis Youth Transition (CAYT) virtual library, managed by Mentor-ADEPIS, may hold the key to understanding prevention science, as it specialises in building evidence to improve prevention practices and service delivery. Richard Lynas, Research Officer at Mentor, argued it’s easy to “cherry pick” data rather than build a strong evidence base; he believes it is the responsibility of all practitioners to contribute to the growing evidence base around NPS so stakeholders have a better understanding of prevention strategies that work.
To promptly respond to NPS, this seminar explored the need for practitioners to draw upon well evidenced interventions that take a universal approach to improving emotional resilience in vulnerable adolescents who are more susceptible to risk-taking behaviours. Nick Hitmott and Rick Bradley presented on the CAYT-accredited programme RisKit, which has been shown to reduce negative risk-seeking behaviour in young people between the age of 14-16. The term ‘negative risk’ encompasses drug and alcohol misuse, early/unprotected sex, self-harm and offending.
In their presentation, Nick and Rick paid attention to Addaction’s programme Mind and Body, which aims to reduce self-harm and improve mental health among young people. Other risky behaviours, such as those related to drug and alcohol misuse, are also targeted by strategies developed by the Mind and Body Programme. Findings from the recent randomised control trail (the ‘gold standard’ for programme evaluation) on RisKit will be available next year.
Key to tackling NPS is the construction of evidence-based learning that can be extrapolated from an existing evidence base or accumulated through new research methodologies.