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Innovation Fund to Reduce Demand for Illicit Substances - Call specification

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Published: 22 August 2022

Version: 1.0 - August 2022

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Key Dates

EventDate
Call launch – documentation available on NIHR website 23 August 2022
Briefing online event 13.00 to 14.00 on 06 September 2022
Phase 1 - Call open 14 September 2022
Expression of Interest deadline 28 September 2022
Deadline for applications 12 October 2022
Applicants notified of outcome Early December 2022
Due diligence and Contracting December 2022/February 2023
Projects start* 06 March 2023
Phase 2 dates Will be announced in Spring 2023

*Please note, awarded projects are expected to start no later than 06 March 2023, subject to satisfactory due diligence. We won’t be able to accommodate delays on the commencement day due to the phased nature of the call. Organisations must therefore mobilise in order to provide the appropriate level of information that will be required.

Please note NIHR terms and conditions of the Research Contract will apply and terms are non-negotiable. NIHR Research Contract templates and further information are available through the website.

Key Features

  • A call potentially up to £5m focused on developing, evaluating, and implementing interventions to reduce and prevent the demand for so called ‘recreational drugs’
  • The call will be run over three phases: phase 1 (development), phase 2 (evaluation), and phase 3 (implementation)
  • Phase 1 proposals can be for up to £200k over 6 months, phase 2 proposals up to £500k over 12 months, and phase 3 proposals up to £500k over 10 months
  • Successful proposals at phase 1 can apply for phase 2 and (if successful) phase 3 funding. However, new proposals can directly apply for phase 2 funding and phase 3 funding
  • Organisations and individuals looking for potential collaborators can contact NIHR
  • The deadline for phase 1 proposals is 13:00 12 October 2022 (with an expression of interest (EoI) form to be submitted by 13:00 28 September)

Background

The Government published a new 10-year drug strategy, From Harm to Hope,[1] in December 2021, responding to Dame Carol Black’s Independent Review of Drugs.[2] Within the review, Dame Carol highlighted that there is an increasing amount of so-called recreational drug use but limited evidence in what may deter people from using these drugs, and asserted that this can no longer be ignored.

The latest statistics on drug misuse suggest that approximately 3.2 million people used drug(s) in the past year in 2019/20, with 1.1 million people reporting that they had used class A drugs.[3]

Drug use presents significant challenges for society. A high demand for drugs increases drug-related crime and violence. Drug-related crime also includes the exploitation of vulnerable groups and has an effect on the economy and productivity. Drug use also causes significant harm to the individual. Any drug use carries risk, and the individual can experience immediate or longer-term harm including death or poor physical and/or mental health. Additionally, what may seem to be so-called ‘recreational’ usage can be, or can lead to, problematic use and dependency.

Reducing the demand for drugs is one of the three key aims of the drug strategy. This will involve:

  • reducing the proportion of the adult population of England and Wales who report use of illicit drugs within the previous 12 months; and
  • reducing the proportion of 11–15-year-olds in England who report illicit drug use within the previous 12 months.

The problem

An analysis undertaken by Public Health England depicted the substantial social and economic costs related to illicit drug use:

  • The total cost of harms related to illicit drug use in England was £19.3 billion for 2017-18. Drug-related crime was the main driver of total costs, with recorded offences committed in England by drug users amounting to c.£9.3 billion in 2017-18
  • Within this overall crime cost, criminal justice services (CJS) cost £733 million
  • Drug-related enforcement costs amounted to £680 million
  • The harms associated with drug-related deaths and homicides made up the next largest cost at £6.3 billion
  • Drug treatment and prevention only made up a small fraction of the total cost at £553 million.

Data from the Office for National Statistics[3] shows that since 2012/13 there has been a rising trend in drug use amongst adults in England and Wales. The latest figures show that 9.4% of adults aged 16 to 59 reported using a drug in the last year in 2019/20, and for those aged 16 to 24, prevalence was even higher at 21%. Drug use in those aged 11 to 15 in England has also been increasing since 2014[4], reversing a previously declining trend in drug use amongst this age group.

Cannabis, powder cocaine and nitrous oxide continue to be the most commonly used drugs in England and Wales. For example, an estimated 2.6 million people used cannabis in 2019/20, and recent trends show prevalence rates of cannabis use are now increasing (following a previous long-term decline). This is particularly evident among younger adults (16-24) where prevalence of reported use in the last year has increased by five percentage points since 2012/13, rising to 18.7% in 2019/20.

Drug use is far more prevalent in those aged under 30, peaking in the 16-19 and 20-24 age groups.[5] Given this, and the rising trends seen in drug use particularly among younger adults, these age cohorts appear to be well placed for targeted prevention and intervention activities.

Furthermore, whilst the large majority of people who use drugs each year are occasional users, will often stop before their 30s, and will not go on to develop issues with problematic or dependent use, the increasing prevalence of so-called ‘recreational drug’ use demonstrates the growing need to do more in the prevention and intervention space to find effective ways to deter people from initiating, continuing or increasing drug use. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) also highlight that more evidence is needed into vulnerabilities to drug use, and prevention approaches suitable for different circumstances.[5]

However, there is currently limited evidence on what may work to reduce demand for drugs. In their recent review of the existing evidence on prevention of drug misuse, the ACMD set out that mass communication strategies,[5] particularly those that rely on approaches that aim to scare individuals into not or stopping taking drugs, do not work.

In 2015, Public Health England published a summary of international evidence on the prevention of drug and alcohol use.[6] This includes examples of implementation in England. This report concluded that potential factors for successful interventions include personal and social skills education, multi-component programmes, and staff who are qualified to deliver the interventions. However, scare tactics, knowledge only approaches, and peer mentoring without evidence base may lead to negative or no results. Further evidence as to what may and may not be effective to prevent drug use in different age groups was also highlighted by the ACMD in their recent prevention review.[5]

Summary of the demographics of recreational drug users

CriteriaDescription
Age Under 30s account for 61% of 2018/19 users of recreational drugs. Cannabis, ecstasy and nitrous oxide use is particularly prevalent among young users, while use of powder cocaine and cannabis are more likely to persist in the over 30s.
Gender Men account for 67% of 2018/2019 drug users. Across all the main drug types, men are twice as likely as women to use drugs.
Ethnicity Recreational drug use is much higher among those who self-define as “Mixed” ethnicity, which may be partially linked to higher levels of deprivation.
Household Income Cannabis use is more prevalent among those with an annual household income of less than £10,000, while powder cocaine use is most prevalent among those on annual household incomes above £50,000.
Geography Overall drug use is highest in the South West and South East of England and is the lowest in the North East and the West Midlands.
Other Factors Use of ecstasy and nitrous oxide is higher among students than non-students of the same age. Drug use is considerably higher among those who regularly consume alcohol and visit pubs/clubs, even after controlling for age.

Aims of the Innovation Fund

Dame Carol Black recommended in her review of drugs that the government should invest in an innovation fund to test our capacity to make behavioural and attitudinal shifts towards the use of drugs. In the 2021 drugs strategy, the Government committed to developing a world-leading evidence base on what works to reduce drug demand. The projects funded through this call will help build that evidence base, and therefore form a key part of our work to tackle this societal challenge and meet the strategy’s overarching ambition to reduce overall drug use towards a 30-year low over the coming decade.

This fund will focus on reducing demand, and therefore reducing use, of so-called ‘recreational drugs’ such as powder cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy and nitrous oxide.

The fund will support the development and piloting of new population level interventions, their evaluation and future roll-out in the community if found to be effective. We would like to hear about projects looking at use of so-called recreational drugs in the following areas:

  • Primary prevention and deterrent interventions to prevent experimental use among cohorts aged 11-15, 16-24, 25+ or narrower age brackets if suitable for intervention.
  • Early intervention approaches and deterrent interventions to prevent problematic or dependent drug use in the future, particularly in the 16-24 and 25+ age ranges.

The projects should be population level approaches, such as but not limited to:

  • Youth club interventions that address issues that drive young people to use drugs
  • Education-focused interventions through schools, colleges, universities, counselling, or other services
  • Engaging local communities to work together in reducing drug use in their area
  • Employer-led approaches to reducing drug use within the workplace and/or workforce
  • Youth-led movements and projects
  • Policing or enforcement approaches, including in partnership with other organisations
  • Social media interventions
  • Technological approaches

We would support proposals based on emerging evidence. This could include drawing on evidence on successful approaches in other areas of public health (such as reducing / preventing smoking) or approaches tested internationally. In these cases, we would look for a clear rationale of how this is applicable to this challenge.

Call overview

NIHR is launching a call as part of the Government’s 10 year drug strategy, funded by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in partnership with the Joint Combating Drugs Unit (working across the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities, Ministry of Justice, DHSC and the Department for Education). The call aims to fund projects that address demand for recreational drugs and are thereby likely to lead to reduced drug use and dependency.
Subject to budget availability, we expect the call to have £5m available to run over 3 phases. Successful projects at each phase will be eligible to the following phase (depending on successful outcomes and assessment of a separate application into the subsequent phases). However new applications will also be accepted in phase 2 and phase 3.

  • Phase 1 – Proposals to undertake the necessary preparatory work to prepare for an evaluation in phase 2. Such proposals could include:
    • development and refinement, preliminary studies, and feasibility studies of new interventions, products, processes or services
    • undertaking the necessary stakeholder engagement and public involvement to assist development of new interventions, products, processes or services
    • developing collaborations and partnerships, particularly with organisations which may implement successful interventions e.g., youth services, education services, police services etc (projects up to £200k over up to 6 months)
  • Phase 2 – further development and refinement, and testing and evaluation of successful phase 1 projects, plus new applications to evaluate existing interventions (projects up £500k over up to 12 months)
  • Phase 3 – implementation and rollout (projects up to £500K over up to 10 months).
PhaseOutlineCompetition Structure
Phase 1 Proposals which undertake the necessary preparatory work to prepare for an evaluation in Phase 2. Such proposals could include: development and refinement, preliminary studies, and feasibility studies of new interventions, products, processes or services, undertaking the necessary stakeholder engagement and public involvement, developing collaborations and partnerships, particularly with organisations which may implement successful interventions. (projects up to £200k over up to 6 months) Open competition for new proposals
Phase 2 Further development and refinement, and testing and evaluation of successful phase 1 projects, plus new applications to evaluate existing interventions (projects up £500k over up to 12 months) Open competition for new proposals

Phase 1 projects will be entitled to apply subject to successful outcomes

Phase 3 implementation and rollout (projects up to £500K over up to 10 months). Open competition for new proposals

Phase 2 projects will be entitled to apply subject to successful outcomes

Eligibility

The fund will be open to all organisations which are a legal entity, regardless of size or sector, that have an innovative solution to reduce the demand for drugs.

Organisations can be based anywhere in the UK but the proposed research must show potential, and is appropriate, for roll out in England.

Collaborations with organisations such as police forces, local authorities, youth clubs, schools, universities, patients with lived experience, members of the public and employers are strongly encouraged.

Application process

The Innovation Fund to Reduce Demand for Illicit Drugs operates a one stage application process with requirement to submit an expression of interest.

Application to each phase will consist of the following process:

  • Initial scope check and triage by NIHR and committee chair/members
  • External peer and public review (only for phase 2 and phase 3)
  • Pre-committee assessment
  • Committee assessment

The Department of Health and Social Care and the Joint Combating Drugs Unit, with input from other relevant Government Department, will ratify proposals recommended for funding.

Assessment criteria

Applications will be reviewed against the following assessment criteria:

  • The potential for the proposal to develop unique and innovative primary prevention and deterrent interventions to prevent experimental drug, and early intervention approaches to prevent use becoming misuse and/or dependency
  • The design and feasibility of the project plan
  • The extent to which the project is likely to have a positive impact on the motivations and vulnerabilities of the target population and how effectively the project team will be able to evidence progress towards their project’s intended outcomes
  • Meaningful involvement and engagement with the targeted community and the public throughout the lifecycle of the research from proposal development, design to delivery and dissemination of the research
  • Strength of the project team, including relevant involvement of stakeholders such as police, local authorities, youth clubs, schools, universities, and emergency services
  • Expected societal impact and plan for effective roll out in England
  • Quality and appropriateness of the project management structure
  • Governance arrangements
  • Value for money.

This call will fund

  • Proposals tackling reducing the use of so-called ‘recreational drugs’ at population level. These drugs include but are not limited to powder cocaine, cannabis, nitrous oxide and ecstasy.

This call will not fund

  • Proposals aimed at reducing use of crack cocaine or opioids.
  • Projects for which there is already substantial evidence, or the evidence base indicates, that there would be no positive effect.
  • Proposals that duplicate interventions already being funded at local or national level, such as through the drug strategy treatment and recovery funding within local authorities or the Addiction Mission run by the Office for Life Sciences.
  • Interventions which have previously been shown to be ineffective or counterproductive

Additional considerations

Prospective applicants should also note:

  • There is the expectation that proposals must be able to effectively engage with the community they propose to target.
  • A robust assessment of cost and an estimate of benefits and value for money must be presented. This should include a full costing for the project, outlining how this spend is reasonable to deliver the aims of the project.

Briefing online event

The NIHR Research Design Service (RDS) will be hosted an online briefing event for prospective applicants to hear more about the funding call, the assessment process, and additional support NIHR can provide. View the online recording.

Applicants to this call should collaborate with the target community and relevant stakeholders - such as police, education services, youth clubs and local authorities - on their application and throughout delivery of the project. Organisations and individuals looking for potential collaborators can indicate this as part of the registration process for the online briefing event, and NIHR may be able to introduce you to other organisations looking for collaborators. Organisations and individuals looking for potential collaborators can also directly email NIHR at nocri@nihr.ac.uk. Please include a short description of the intervention to be developed/evaluated and the collaborators you are looking for (e.g. academics, practitioners, community based organisations etc) and a description of contributions sought from collaborators. 

For more information please register for the RDS online briefing event.

Contact details

If you have any queries, please contact rdis@nihr.ac.uk.

References and Key Documents

  1. HM Government, From harm to hope: a 10-year drugs plan to cut crime and save lives [online], 2021, [Accessed August 2022]. Available from: From harm to hope: a 10-year drugs plan to cut crime and save lives
  2. Black C, Independent review of drugs by Professor Dame Carol Black [online], 2020, [Accessed August 2022]. Available from: Independent review of drugs by Professor Dame Carol Black
  3. ONS, Drug misuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2020 [online], 2020, [Accessed August 2022]. Available from: Drug misuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2020
  4. NHS Digital, Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England 2018 [online], 2018, [Accessed August 2022]. Available from: Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England 2018
  5. Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs, ACMD Drug misuse prevention review [online], 2022, [Accessed August 2022]. Available from: ACMD Drug misuse prevention review
  6. Public Health England, The international evidence on the prevention of drug and alcohol use [online], 2015, [Accessed August 2022], Available from: The international evidence on the prevention of drug and alcohol use