19/02 Interventions that reduce harmful substance use with a focus on novel psychoactive substances
Please note: The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme would like to draw researchers’ attention to the commissioning brief below, which was first advertised in Spring 2019 as a commissioned funding opportunity. We are still interested in receiving applications in this research area, as it remains a priority in our portfolio. However, please note that the commissioning brief, along with the underpinning literature searches, has not been updated since originally written.
- What interventions are effective* in reducing harmful substance use, including novel psychoactive substances (NPS), among high risk and vulnerable groups?
The use of harmful substances is associated with a range of adverse health effects such as toxicity, infections and injury, and there are wider impacts on physical and mental health, and social wellbeing. At present, the evidence demonstrating effective components of interventions to reduce harmful substance use is limited. In recent years NPS have appeared and there is no evidence to support prevention and mitigation of associated harms, in any context, in relation to any population and in relation to other substance misuse. NPS are compounds designed to mimic existing recreational drugs. The most common clinically encountered NPS are stimulants and cannabinoids. The Psychoactive Substances Act (2016) classified NPS as illegal drugs, banning the manufacture, sale and distribution of these products.
The need for research on NPS has been highlighted including in “The Novel Psychoactive Substances in the UK Project: empirical and conceptual review work to produce research recommendations” (https://www.journalslibrary.nihr.ac.uk/phr/phr05040). The NIHR Public Health Research programme wishes to commission research on population-level interventions that have been adapted or developed to reduce substance use and which include preventing the harms related to NPS. Interventions should be aimed at a defined population and should consider NPS alongside other substances of abuse (e.g. other illegal drugs, alcohol); researchers must make a case if an individual-level intervention is to be used. If appropriate, evaluations may include existing interventions and the evaluation of novel interventions. These interventions could address both proximal and distal determinants of NPS and related drug use and harms, and how risks should be communicated to different groups.
Relevant high risks populations include, but are not limited to, participants in night time leisure activities, men who have sex with men (MSM), people in custodial settings, young people, people who inject drugs and people with multiple vulnerabilities. Such groups may be accessed across a range of settings including low-threshold services, specialist treatment services, sexual health services, nightlife settings, schools, prisons and other custodial settings.
Studies should generate evidence to inform the implementation of single or multi-component interventions. Studies may include evidence syntheses, studies evaluating interventions, including trials, quasi- and natural experimental evaluations, and feasibility and pilot studies for these. We welcome applications for linked studies (e.g. pilot + main evaluation). Secondary analyses of existing epidemiological data and/or impact modelling studies may also be funded. We encourage the adoption of a systems perspective where appropriate to the study context. In all cases a strong justification for the chosen design and methods must be made.
The primary outcome measure of the research, if not necessarily the intervention itself, must be health-related. The positive or negative impacts of the intervention, including inequitable outcomes should be considered. Researchers are asked to indicate how long-term impacts will be assessed. All applications should identify underlying theory and include a logic model (or equivalent) to help explain underlying context, theory and mechanisms. Proposals should ensure adequate public involvement in the research.
The impacts of public health interventions are often complex and wide-reaching. Studies should acknowledge this by adopting a broad perspective, taking account of costs and benefits to all relevant sectors of society. An appropriate health economic analysis to inform cost effectiveness, affordability or return on investment should be included where appropriate. Sustainability - health, economic and environmental - are also of interest.
For all proposals, applicants should clearly state the public health utility of the outcomes and the mechanisms by which they will inform future public health policy and practice. Details about the potential pathway to impact and scalability of interventions, if shown to have an effect, should be provided, including an indication of which organisation(s) might fund the relevant intervention(s) if widely implemented.
Remit of call
All proposals submitted under this call must fall within the remit of the NIHR Public Health Research (PHR) programme. Please go to the PHR pages for details. For the evaluation of time sensitive, policy driven, interventions applicants may wish to consider the fast-track work stream.
The PHR Programme funds research to generate evidence to inform the delivery of non-NHS interventions intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health. Our scope is multi-disciplinary and broad, covering a wide range of interventions that improve public health.
The primary aim of the programme is the evaluation of practical interventions. We will fund both primary research (mainly evaluative, but also some preparatory research) and secondary research (evidence synthesis); precise methods will need to be appropriate to the question being asked and the feasibility of the research.
Our research serves a variety of key stakeholders including: decision-makers in local government; primary care organisations and other local public services; third sector organisations; relevant national agencies (e.g. NICE) concerned with improving public health and reducing health inequalities; researchers; public health practitioners and the public.
Applicants should consider how their findings will impact upon decision making in public health practice, whether results are generalisable to other populations and affordable, setting out a clear pathway to impact. The NIHR PHR programme recognises that there is a need for an evidence base for disinvestment and that the removal of an intervention from a population can be worthy of evaluation.
The affordability of the intervention, and at least an indication of the stakeholder(s) willing to fund the intervention, should be referenced within the stage 1 application. At the stage 2 application point, statements of support confirming stakeholder commitments to funding will be required. Applicants should be aware that the NIHR PHR programme is unable to fund intervention costs.
The NIHR PHR programme is open to the joint funding of research projects with other organisations such as those in the third sector. If you would like to explore the potential for joint funding, please contact us at email@example.com with details of your proposal and the other funder prior to submission.
All of our funded projects are eligible for publication in the NIHR Journals Library. This open access resource is freely available online, and provides a full and permanent record of NIHR-funded research.
Notes to applicants
The NIHR PHR programme is funded by the NIHR, with contributions from the CSO in Scotland, Health and Care Research Wales, and HSC R&D, Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland. Researchers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are eligible to apply for funding under this programme.
Applicants are recommended to seek advice from suitable methodological support services, at an early stage in the development of their research idea and application. The NIHR Research Design Service can advise on appropriate NIHR programme choice, and developing and designing high quality research grant applications.
The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) supports health and social care research taking place in NHS and non-NHS settings. The CRN provides expert advice and support to plan, set up and deliver research efficiently.
Clinical Trials Units are regarded as an important component of many trial applications however, they are not essential for all types of studies to the PHR programme. The CTUs can advise and participate throughout the process from initial idea development through to project delivery and reporting. NIHR CTU Support Funding provides information on units receiving funding from the NIHR to collaborate on research applications to NIHR programmes and funded projects. In addition, the UKCRC CTU Network provides a searchable information resource on all registered units in the UK, and lists key interest areas and contact information.
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