The Crime Survey Figures for England and Wales (CSEW) were released yesterday and showed good indications of big falls in new psychoactive substance (NPS) use. This is the first national measure on prevalence since the passing of the Psychoactive Substances Act in May last year and the obvious inference is that the reduced availability of NPS has resulted in reduced exposure and harms.
There was a significant fall in 16 to 24 year olds' NPS use in the last year from 2.6% to 1.2%. The use of NPS among 16 to 59 year olds has fallen from 0.7% to 0.4%, "a statistically significant change". The CSEW is a household survey covering about 35,000 people - its measure of drug trends is very respected.*
There have been many reports of the significant issues faced by vulnerable groups in their continued and often problematic use of 'spice' or other synthetic cannabinoids. On occasion these issues, in places like Wrexham and Manchester, have been portrayed as the sole measure of success of the legislation. For some homeless charities there would have been little change; however, across the wider population, use has certainly fallen.
A little over a year ago there were hundreds of high street shops supplying a large amount of harmful and often unpredictable material, perfectly legally. The range of substances included stimulants, depressants, and psychedelics as well as 'spice'. They were invariably mixtures of potent substances misleadingly labelled and marketed to curious young people. It would appear much of that market has been heavily diminished and not simply shifted directly 'underground'. So some significant initial benefits appear to have realised by the legislation.
This cannot be the whole story. The market for new psychoactives is rapidly evolving, so young people need to be educated about their particular risk. Mentor will continue its education and outreach programmes such as Why Not Find Out and develop NPS education materials for teachers and other practitioners.
We need to keep under close scrutiny the total impact of the legislation. Mentor serves, with charity Re-Solv, as Secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for New Psychoactive Substances and Volatile Substance Abuse. The purpose of this group is to help monitor the issues and challenges which remain since the Act’s implementation. The Chair, David Hanson MP, has taken evidence from a wide range of witnesses who have highlighted where the legislation has been successful and where more focus needs applying to ongoing problems. The group's findings will be fed back to policy-makers and stakeholders in early 2019.
The Government is also committed to holding a statutory review of the Act to be completed in November 2018 and recently published its review framework.
It is still early days but these figures from the CSEW show getting the law in place made a measurable difference in reducing harms. Mentor will ensure more young people are aware of the considerable risks presented by NPS and know enough to avoid taking them.
* It should be noted that the CSEW does not cover people living in group residences (such as student residence halls or NHS nurses' accommodation) or other institutions (such as prisons), or homeless people