New Psychoactive Substances and Human Enhancement Drugs: new policy and practitioner landscapes

Lead Research Organisation: University of Kent
Department Name: Sch of Social Pol Sociology & Social Res

Abstract

Rising levels of NPS/HED have been observed around the globe as new technologies for their advertisement and dissemination have developed. The Coalition Government in the UK, and international bodies and institutions around the world, have called for a focus on developing policies that limit their harm and implementing strategies that help to appraise users of their potential risks: they have widely been described as the new challenge facing both policymakers and practitioners. Despite the prioritisation of this issue, a coherent and extensive social research agenda in this area that seeks to evaluate policies and their consequences, critically assess official discourses and explore the needs and experiences of users does not yet exist. Without this evidence base it is impossible for policymakers to make informed decisions or practitioners to implement standards of best practice. It is the intention of this seminar series to bring academics from many social research related disciplines and working at many different levels together with practitioners and policymakers to develop and shape, in partnership, a social research agenda on NPS and HED that will, in turn, be used to inform both policy and practice.

This partnership will be effected by bringing together a strong UK based network of NPS/HED related social researchers and social research users and by creating a forum within which they can engage in dialogue, exchange ideas and perspectives, develop their conceptualisations of the challenges posed by NPS/HED, jointly shape policy and research agendas, and drive forward new research collaborations and strategies. To ensure the diversity of the network and the breadth of its reach, academics from a variety of social research disciplines (criminology, sociology, substance use/abuse epidemiology, child care, health sciences, criminal justice and public policy) and at different stages of their career will be included; similarly, policymakers and practitioners from a variety of backgrounds (governmental/non-governmental; law enforcement/treatment), as well as media representatives and users themselves, will participate in the overall network. While NPS/HED is a problem that is significant in its effect in the UK in particular, it is an issue that is being experienced around the globe and thus, where appropriate, international scholars and policymakers have been asked to contribute to the debates and join the 'core pool' of participants so that their experiences can also be acknowledged.

The seminar series will take the format of 6 half day seminars related to social research on NPS/HED: new policy directions; supply and demand; psychopharmacology; law enforcement; risk; and treatment, community developments and harm reduction. It will be attended by 40 participants drawn from the 'core pool' of participants, other interested local parties and those specifically invited by the host institution. It will be accompanied by a suite of online resources including a dedicated blog and discussion forum that will widen participation to those members of the 'core pool' unable to attend seminars in person, those working in related disciplines that are not members of the 'core pool' and those from the international arena. Our work will be consolidated by our final 3 day event which aims to maximise the impact of existing research outcomes and inspire new research collaborations.

Planned Impact

The rising use of NPS (and HED) is an issue that has received much media attention and thus much public interest, which has helped to drive forward an agenda for existing organisations, institutions and individuals interested in illegal drugs to extend their focus to NPS and sometimes HED. The co-applicants, as well as key members of the core pool, have exploited their extensive existing contacts to gain access to those charged with responding to these new challenges. To date, representatives from the national and international academic community, international drug related organisations, governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations, law enforcement agencies, treatment agencies, drug education agencies, journalism and NPS/HED users themselves have agreed to be part of the 'core pool' of interested parties, to help with the design of individual events, to follow the proceedings of the seminars and to contribute to the seminars where appropriate. As NPS/HED is such a rapidly developing field, it is the intention to continue to add to this list of affiliated users of research over the duration of the ESRC grant as the influence of the existing network grows via its online presence, thus ensuring that increasing audiences are reached.

Despite growing concern about NPS/HED and the new focus upon them by policymakers and practitioners, there remains very little relevant social research to draw upon. It is not currently easy for those listed above to access up-to-date evaluations of policy practices, discussions about 'what works' in this field, forums for the exchange of best practice, accounts of user experiences or debates about the intended and unintended consequences of policy interventions. Our seminar series will provide that forum by allowing practitioners and policy makers to have access (either by attendance at seminars or through our accompanying online resources, briefing papers, discussion forums, academic and news media publications/broadcasts) to up-to-date academic thinking and cutting edge research in this area that can be used to inform their decision making in the future. It will also allow them to benefit extensively from the network building aspect of the seminar series in the sense that they will have an opportunity to meet others working in the field and exchange ideas and experiences with them leading to the identification of incidences of best practice. Finally, those who have the most contact with the end users of NPS/HED will be facilitated in shaping both research agendas and policy processes.

The seminar series and 'core pool' of participants have been designed in order to ensure that research users form a key part of the venture from the design stage onwards and occupy prominent roles within it, allowing a balanced dialogue to emerge between academics, policy makers and practitioners. Each individual seminar includes key contributions from research users as speakers and/or discussion leaders, and they are also well represented within the 'core pool'. Furthermore, the organisers of each seminar have committed to inviting local practitioners and (where appropriate) policy makers to the individual seminars and to guaranteeing that each seminar is populated by a balance of academics, policy makers and practitioners. This will further ensure that policy makers and practitioners will hold an important stake in the development of a dialogue around NPS/HED: just as they may be influenced and impacted by the exposure to academic debates around and theoretical conceptualisations of NPS/HED, so they will in turn help to shape and develop academic thinking in these areas.

The potential impact of the seminar proceedings and outputs will be maximised by the timely publication of our ongoing findings via our blog, which will be made freely available to all interested parties, and by seeking to exploit existing links with media outlets such as the Guardian and BBC Radio 4.

Publications

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Alexandrescu L. (2017) Ethnobotanicals and psice zombies: new psychoactive substances in the mainstream media in Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy

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Campbell A (2017) Health and Social Care workers' perceptions of NPS use in Northern Ireland. in The International journal on drug policy

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Chatwin C (2018) Intersections in (New) drug research in Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy

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Chatwin C (2017) Assessing the 'added value' of European policy on new psychoactive substances. in The International journal on drug policy

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O'Brien K (2014) New psychoactive substances and British drug policy: A view from the cyber-psychonauts in Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy

 
Description Our key findings are based on the implementation of two of our key objectives: (a) bringing together academics, practitioners, law enforcement agents, drug users themselves, policy makers etc. to participate in key discussions; (b) the successful adoption of a critical approach focusing on social/cultural contexts of psychoactive substance use.

Our key findings can be summarised as follows:
(a) the areas of new psychoactive substance use (legal highs, mephedrone, BZP etc.) and human enhancement drugs (smart drugs, steroids and sports supplements, smart drugs) are inter-related. There are important similarities between the development of policy and the experience of harm to users across the range of substances encompassed in the two groups. However, there are also important differences - for example, in treatment needs. The intersections between new psychoactive substances, human enhancement drugs and traditional illegal substances are complex and are important areas for further future research.
(b) the policy changes that have taken place in relation to new drugs over the period of the grant award have been substantial and involve significant shifts in the justifications for drug control. As such, they require careful, rigorous and transparent evaluation. Results should be disseminated widely and considered within the international context.
(c) the focus of future research should be on the vulnerable populations within which use of these kinds of substances has become problematic. For example, the homeless, those who are imprisoned, the mentally ill, and the young. Research should seek to explore the use of these substances in the context of harm - both done by the substance and as a consequence of recent policy implementations.

Our key developments can be summarised as follows:

(a) Our findings have been posted on our dedicated website as part of a series of briefing papers in key areas (harm reduction, policy, policing etc.). They are thus widely available to generally inform policy makers, practitioners and the general public. They have also been developed as a resource for teachers and students interested in the area.
(b) We have created a thriving network of academics, policy makers, practitioners, law enforcement agents and drug users themselves. The network has resulted in several writing partnerships between academics and practitioners.
(c) we have created two special issues (one in production) on key areas of our findings - intersections in new drug research and policy implications respectively. These have been contributed to from the international network we have established in this area
(d) we are developing a collaborative grant to conduct further research on the final area of our findings - new drug use amongst vulnerable populations.
Exploitation Route Our findings can be taken forward/used in the following key ways:

(a) key findings on future research utilised by academics to inspire a new generation of critical social research in the area
(b) through collaborative research and writing partnerships developed through our network
(c) by teachers of UG/PG students accessing our online podcasts and briefing papers and using them to inform teaching
(d) by policy makers seeking research evidence, particularly from our new drug policy edited journal, to inform key decisions
(e) by practitioners, particularly through our edited journal, seeking to find instances of best practice and to enhance knowledge on varied substance use
(f) by Phd students/early career researchers who attended our writing workshop helping them to develop original articles in the area
(g) by new drug users themselves - key members of this group participated in the series and particularly in the final event and are thus able to feed our findings back to users more generally
(h) by the general public accessing our website resources to learn more about the topic
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL https://newdrugseminars.wordpress.com/
 
Description Our findings have achieved impact outside academia in three areas: (a) increasing effectiveness of policy; (b) increasing effectiveness of public services; (c) enhancing quality of life and health. (a) Increasing effectivness of policy Significant policy change has taken, and is some cases is taking, place in this field to deal with the new drugs phenomenon. These changes have taken place quickly and many of those involved in making key decisions have noted the lack of available evidence, particularly critical, social and cultural evidence on which to base policy decisions. Some of the key outputs of our grant (2 journal special issues, report to APPG, involvement in ACMD) have provided some of this much needed evidence that can be directly used by policy makers, and our identification of future research priorites has helped to guide and shape research development in the area. During the life of our award, significant policy related changes have taken place within the UK governance of psychoactive substances. In April 2016 the psychoactive substances act was implimented which changes our drug control system from one which criminalises a few substances based on assessments of their harm, to one which criminalises all psychoactive substances, bar a few notable exceptions, without recourse to harm assessment.This represents a major change in drug control within the country. For two years prior to the implementation of the Psychoactive Substances Act, the government has been actively consulting with its Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to determine the details of the Act. Two members of our research team (Fiona Measham and Harry Sumnall) were already members of the ACMD at the outset of the grant and were included in every aspect of these consultations directly contributing to the formulation of government policy in this area. Since implementation of the Act in 2016, the government has already initiated an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) charged with exploring the effectiveness of the psychoactive substances legislation. We were invited to contribute our key findings to the review process in February 2017 so they can be used in an evaluation of the Act's overall effectiveness. At the same times as these developments which have been ocurring in the UK, at the EU level proposals have also been put forward to significantly change the way that new psychoactive substances are controlled. Again, these changes are substantial, but differ considerably from those implemented in the UK. Key proposed features include the development of a pan European classification system for substances based on harms and the protection of the right to use controlled substances for legitimate scientific and medical purposes. One of the outputs (see publications) of the award has been to conduct a critical review that can contribute to ongoing discussions around this proposal in EU level policy making circles. (b) Increasing effectiveness of public services Our identification of service provision for users of new drugs as a key area needing to be informed by critical and social research has resulted in several output publications in this area being included in our special issues. Key findings that can immediately be used by service providers are that users of new substances tend to use a wide range of substances in combination including traditional drugs and alcohol so services may need to consider substance use in the round rather than focusing on one particular substance. Furthermore, services which have been designed with specific types of user in mind (e.g. heroin users) might not be easily adaptable to users of primarily other substances who can feel alienated and ignored. Finally, harms can be enhanced for users of new substances because less is known about them in general and because of specific factors such as the increased number of times new substances are injected per day in comparison to heroin. Our seminar series is also proud to have inspired a writing/research partnership between an academic (Shane Blackman) and a practitioner (Rick Bradley) who met through the series and who have conducted some research on young new drug users and disseminated the findings via two journal articles (included in our special issues). Including a practitioner in the research design and writing processes will ensure that the usefulness of the findings to the practioner communities is maximised. During the life of the research award the use of new drugs, particularly spice, within the prison environment has emerged as a key issue facing the public (and private) service sector, and the government itself. Research included in our special issue, and which received considerable media attention, sought to outline the exetent of the problem, document the nature and motivations for use, and measure the impact on the prison environment. The results were used to critique the mandatory drug testing regime which has helped to proliferate the use of new psychoactive substances over and above traditionally illegal substances. These findings were reported to the APPG and were circulated widely into the public and governmental consciousness via significant media promotion. We hope that we will continue to have impact in this area of improving the effectiveness of public services as we have prioritised the need for further research amongst vulnerable populations as part of our widely disseminated key findings. (c) Enhancing quality of life and health One area of focus for our seminar series and related output has been harms - both the harms done to users by a particular new drug or category of new drugs, and the harm done to users by the policy that is implemented against new substances. Impact in this area has been strongest around Fiona Measham's work in two areas: experimenting with the use of drug testing at festivals and club nights through her charity 'the Loop', and contributing to the developments of new regulations to govern the licencing of Fabric nightclub in London where several young people have recently died. Fiona's work with the Loop has helped to promote the value of drug testing in helping users to use substances responsibly and with reduced levels of harm. It has been widely feature in the media and is set to move to an increasing number of festivals and clubs this year. Fiona's work on the Fabric regulations helped to inform police and other law enforcement agents about the dangers of using measures such as sniffer dogs which might encourage users to binge on substances prior to entering the nightclub. New drug users themselves were involved with our seminar series from the outset and their involvement increased over the duration of the grant. One new drug user attended our first event, two new drug users presented at our Belfast event and a key core group of new drug users numbering about 15 attended our final event. They were empowered through the series to contribute to discussions and debates with policy makers, law enforcement agents and treatment practitioners - something they reported they had never had the chance to do before. Regardless of future impact, their voices were heard and they were able to feed our key findings back into user communities. We hope that their input will continue to develop through writing/reserach partnerships
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Advice to APPG on NPS
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact We were asked to contribute the findings of our seminar series to the All Party Parliamentary Group reviewing the implementation of the Psychoactive Substances Act. We presented our findings about the future development of a critical social research agenda in this area. Our findings were: (i) that new psychoactive substances and human enhancement drugs should be considered as part of the same issue; (ii) that the recent policy changes, both nationally and internationally, in this area have been significant and must be subjected to critical evaluation and review; and (iii) that future research should focus primarily on the use of these substances among vulnerable population such as those who are imprisoned, the homeless and the mentally ill. The review is still in progress and it remains to be seen what part our findings will play in the development of the final evaluation.
 
Description Fabric Nightclub Closure
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact Fabric nightclub in London was closed in 2016 due to some drug related deaths associated with the venue. Fiona Measham became a figurehead for the campaign to keep Fabric nightclub open and was invited to high level discussions about the most appropriate regulatory policy that would offer the most effective protectection of those choosing to attend Fabric nightclub from the harms that can be caused by illegal drug consumption, and the consumption of unknown substances. Fabric nightclub has since repopened and the conditions suggested by Fiona have formed the cornerstone of it's licensing requirements.
 
Description Members of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact As members of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Harry Sumnall and Fiona Measham have been able to contribute to governmental decision making and legislation creating in the are of New Psychoactive Substances. In April 2016 the government brought in the Psychoactive Substances Act to legislate against the rising phenomenon of new psychoactive substances. In the run up to the implementation of this Act, Harry and Fiona were involved in high level discussions about the shaping of the legislation, advising government officials on areas that needed to be ammended prior to implementation.
 
Description PhD/ECR writing workshop
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact We provided an advanced writing worshop for 30 Phd students/Early career researchers. We invited them to bring a partially written article in the field of NPS to the workshop and, through individual tuition and group discussion, we helped them to develop their work. We also encouraged them to work on the article to fit the call for abstracts for our forthcoming special journal issue in this area. 4 students went on to have abstracts accepted for our special issue which will be published in January 2018. It was also an excellent opportunity for participants to build a network of those working in this area.
 
Description ERANID submission 
Organisation Free University of Amsterdam
Country Netherlands 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I acted as principle investigator on a joint submission to the ERANID call for proposals on cross-European research on narratives of drug use.
Collaborator Contribution I had co-investigators at the university of Ghent and VU University. These investigators were connected to me through the ESRC seminar series. I had a UK partner in the grant from the University of Leicester. We were connected through the ESRC seminar series.
Impact Submission to ERANID - round 1
Start Year 2015
 
Description ERANID submission 
Organisation University of Ghent
Department Department of Criminology, Criminal Law and Social Law
Country Belgium 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I acted as principle investigator on a joint submission to the ERANID call for proposals on cross-European research on narratives of drug use.
Collaborator Contribution I had co-investigators at the university of Ghent and VU University. These investigators were connected to me through the ESRC seminar series. I had a UK partner in the grant from the University of Leicester. We were connected through the ESRC seminar series.
Impact Submission to ERANID - round 1
Start Year 2015
 
Description ERANID submission 
Organisation University of Leicester
Department Department of Criminology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I acted as principle investigator on a joint submission to the ERANID call for proposals on cross-European research on narratives of drug use.
Collaborator Contribution I had co-investigators at the university of Ghent and VU University. These investigators were connected to me through the ESRC seminar series. I had a UK partner in the grant from the University of Leicester. We were connected through the ESRC seminar series.
Impact Submission to ERANID - round 1
Start Year 2015
 
Description Conference presentation at ESSD on the findings of our seminar series 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Prsented a conference paper outlining the findings of our seminar series and advertising our special issue of the International Journal of Drug Policy. This paper was presented at the European Society of Social Drug research (ESSD) in Lisbon to an international audience of academics, researchers, students and policy makers/professionals. Several members of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) based in Lisbon were in attendance.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Media appearance - danger of superman ecstasy pills 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A commentary criticising government failure to publish warnings about illegal substances contaminated by new psychoactive substances. Written in response to several deaths from a particular brand of ecstasy pill contaminated by PMAA. Commentary cited in other articles and by harm reduction groups and NGOs. Helped to build momentum in campaign for government to pass on warnings from the continent about contaminated illegal dugs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/11331367/Superman-ecstasy-pills-drugs-expert-says-gover...
 
Description New Psychoactive substances mini-conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The final event in our seminar series was a mini-conference which reached out beyond our immediate seminar series network and engaged with a larger audience. The audience was vefy diverse made up of academics, law enforcement agents, practitioners, drug users themselves etc. As well as the diverse presentations, valuable discussions were engaged in about the development of a future strategic research agenda in this area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description PhD/ECR writing workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact 30 Phd students/ECR particpated in a writing workshop that we put on as part of the final event in the seminar series. We invited partipants to bring ideas for journal articles they were already working on and we designed a day that would help them to further develop their ideas. If participants desired, we helped them to develop their ideas in line with publication in our forthcoming special journal issue on intersections in new drug research. 4 of the participants have now had abstracts selected for this special issue.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Series of media appearances - drug testing, the Loop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Fiona Measham runs a charity (the Loop) which conducts testing of psychoactive substances at nightclubs in the North West and festivals throughout the UK. Her charity is often in the news and attracts national and international attention as an important advocate for the need for drug testing to reduce the harm done to users of new psychoactive substances. Her constant media presence in this area helps to keep the issue in the foreground and has resulted in an extension of her experimental provision to a more permanent basis in the North West, and to an increasing number of festivals throughout the UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016
 
Description Website including podcasts and briefing papers 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We have a dedicated webiste to accompany our ESRC seminar series. We podcast the main speakers at our seminars and post the recordings here. We also write briefing papers summarising the findings from each seminar and post them here. We send these outputs to our mailing list which includes 250 people (policymakers, professionals, service providers, students, users etc.). But they are also freely available to any member of the public searching for the relevant topic. They also provide a useful teaching/learning aid for students working in the area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016
URL https://newdrugseminars.wordpress.com/