A new project at the University of Huddersfield that aims to reduce recreational drug use among young people is under way after being awarded part of a £5m government fund.

Professor Michael Doyle’s Reducing Illicit Drug Use Project (RISUP) is one of five projects around England that have been allocated money from an innovations fund that is part of a strategy to reduce the demand for powder cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and nitrous oxide. RISUP has been allocated £200,000.

Phase one, already under way, is a six-month period during which interventions will be developed. If the first phase is successful, two further year-long phases for evaluation and implementation will be greenlit with further access to the innovation fund.

Three-phase project

The early stage of phase one will see learning resources developed for children aged 11 upwards to help them understand and manage the risks of illicit substances, as well as improve their understanding of positive lifestyle choices and reduce risky behaviours. Parents, teachers and other adults who work with children will also be involved.

RISUP has a local focus and phase one will also work with The Base, a drug and alcohol service for young people in Kirklees, to enhance its one-to-one interventions. A public health campaign will be developed in the first six months of this phase which will also aim to reduce demand, before all of phase one’s work will be evaluated and enhanced as necessary ahead of an evaluation phase. 

“Underpinning all of this work is the principle of co-production with our stakeholders, and we are keen to consult young people from 11 years upwards to see what their awareness of illicit substances is, and what help and information they need,” says Professor Doyle. 

“We want to help them make informed lifestyle choices with the development of the learning materials, 1-1 interventions and a public health campaign.

Professor Michael Doyle

“We are collaborating with a multi-agency team of practitioners and experts from public health, voluntary services, police and education. We are taking the lead, working with NHS South West Yorkshire Partnerships Trust , Kirklees Council, West Yorkshire Police  and various voluntary agencies including Change Grow Live at The Base  and  Our Voice, who engage with children and young people, identify their needs and to help them manage the risks.   

“We started in mid-March, and after six months of developing these interventions we can apply to get funding to evaluate them for 12 months. If the evaluation is successful, then we can apply to implement them for another year.”

Helping young people make informed decisions

The project’s findings will feed into various courses at the University across nursing, policing, psychology, criminology, physical and mental health.

Professor Doyle sees RISUP having real-world impact as well as informing taught courses, adding that, “There are quite a few myths around the safety of some recreational drugs, but getting away without any harm is different to something being safe. People are often unaware of the risks so that is something we will work on. It is about helping people to make an informed choice and although we will not focus on scare tactics we will highlight the risks.

“We have a definite role to play from an academic and research perspective. We are leading the project, but equally we are relying on the skills, experience and knowledge of our external partners. They have frontline knowledge of dealing with the impact of illicit substances on a daily basis. We can bring our expertise from an academic perspective, but we need to collaborate to learn from their front-line knowledge and skills to make it a success.

It is a very positive move for us, with potentially around £1m of funding for the full three-year scope. It is a reflection of all the hard work that went into the application, and a recognition of the work people are doing. People here are working really hard in these areas and we would not have made the application without something to base it on. It’s a real boost and it will help enhance practice even further.

This project is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research and the Department of Health and Social Care under its Innovation Fund to Reduce Demand for Illicit Substances (RDIS) funding call (Grant Reference Number NIHR205265).


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