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Innovation Fund to Reduce Demand for Illicit Substances (RDIS) information for applicants


Published: 26 January 2023

Version: 1.0 January 2023

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 Key Features

  • A call focused on developing, evaluating, and implementing interventions to reduce and prevent the demand for so called recreational drugs.
  • The call is being run over three phases: phase 1 (development), phase 2 (evaluation), and phase 3 (implementation). It will have up to £5m funding available over its three phases.
  • The application window for phase one proposals, which could be for up to £200k over 6 months, closed in October 2022. Projects will start in March 2023 and are due to complete in September 2023.
  • Phase two will open for bids in 2023, and proposals can be for up to £500k over 12 months. We expect phase three to open for bids in 2025: proposals put forward in this phase can be for 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.
  • We are keen to hear from all organisations that have a proposal for primary prevention, early intervention and/or deterrent-based activities that could credibly help reduce demand for drugs.
  • Organisations and individuals looking for potential research or operational collaborators can contact the NOCRI team and for free help writing your research proposal please contact the Research Design Service. We recommend that organisations without research functions collaborate to get the best chance of success. 


The Government published a new 10-year drug strategy, From Harm to Hope, in December 2021, responding to Dame Carol Black’s Independent Review of Drugs. 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.

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, which set out an overarching ambition of reducing overall drug use towards a 30-year low over the decade following the strategy’s publication in December 2021. The strategy included a range of projects aimed at reducing drug demand across all age groups from age 11 upwards, and at building the evidence base on what works to achieve this aim. 

What do we fund?

The Innovation Fund to Reduce Demand for Illicit Substances funds research on developing, evaluating and implementing interventions to reduce and prevent demand for so-called ‘recreational drugs’ such as powder cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy and nitrous oxide. The fund will support the development and piloting of new interventions delivered within local communities, 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.

How long and how much?

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) Application portal closed on 12 October 2022
Phase 2 Further development and refinement, and testing and evaluation of successful phase 1 projects, plus new applications to develop and evaluate existing interventions (projects up £500k over up to 12 months) Competition will open for new proposals. 
Phase 1 projects will also be entitled to apply subject to successful outcomes. 
Phase 3 Testing and evaluation on a wider population, implementation and rollout (projects up to £500K over up to 10 months). Competition will open for new proposals. 
Phase 2 projects will also be entitled to apply subject to successful outcomes.

Successful projects at each phase can apply for the next phase. However, new proposals can also directly apply for phase 2 funding and phase 3 funding. In each phase all applications will be judged on their individual merits regardless of whether they were successful in a previous phase or not. 

When is funding available?

Phase 1 closed for applications on 12 October 2022, funding available between March and September 2023. Phase 2 is now open and further information can be found here. Phase 3 will open for applications in 2025, funding available between 2025 and 2026.

How do I apply?

The Innovation Fund to Reduce Demand for Illicit Drugs (RDIS) funding call will use a two stage application process for each of phase 2 and phase 3. The stage 1 application form will be much shorter and will be assessed mainly on its merit as a research idea. Applications successful at stage 1 will be invited to complete a longer stage 2 application with a full financial breakdown. 


The fund will be open to all organisations which are a legal entity, regardless of size or sector, that have a potential 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, or England and Wales were the intervention is focussed on policing and/or criminal justice. This includes ensuring that proposals are likely to be supported within the existing UK government policy landscape. 

Collaborations between academics and organisations such as police forces, local authorities, youth clubs, schools, universities, and employers are strongly encouraged. In addition, applicants should consider involvement of patients with lived experience and members of the public to inform project development from their perspective.

Proposed projects should take a population-level approach 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.

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
  • Survey research or clinical trials that do not lead to a tangible population-level intervention during the period covered by the fund. 

Information from Phase 1

While phase 1 of the RDIS funding call is now closed, you can still find the call specification online with more information about the background to the call and specifics about the assessment process. 

We have created a set of FAQs for the phase 1 funding call which may be applicable to your questions about any phase of the funding call or the application process. If you still have questions please contact us.

Our People

The Innovation Fund to Reduce Demand for Illicit Drugs is a national call, with applications reviewed by a national committee.

The committee recommends projects for funding to the Department of Health and Social Care and Joint Combating Drugs Unit, which works across the Home Office, DHSC, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Ministry of Justice, and the Department for Education to deliver on the aims of the Government’s ten-year drugs strategy. DHSC and JCDU will then approve projects for funding.  

Members of NIHR committees are required to declare any interests which conflict, or may be considered to conflict, with NIHR business, or may be perceived as influencing decisions made in the course of their work within NIHR programmes. All members are asked to complete the Register of Interest form (annually), which is intended to capture long term predictable interests that could be perceived to lead to conflicts of interest. These and other interests are judged on a case by case basis at individual meetings.

Our funding committee

Professor Sue Ziebland Co-Director of MS&HERG (Medical Sociology & Health Experiences Research Group) and Professor of Medical Sociology University of Oxford
Mrs Anne Benson PPI Representative PPI Representative
Professor Chris Bonell Professor of Public Health Sociology London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Professor Simon Coulton Professor of Health Service Research University of Kent
Professor Eileen Kaner Professor of Public Health and Primary Care Research University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Professor Susanne MacGregor Professor of Public Health Medicine London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Dr William McGovern Senior Lecturer in Public Health Medicine University of Northumbria at Newcastle
Ms Stella O'Brien PPI Representative PPI Representative
Dr Mabel Okoeki Health improvement Lead (Drug & Alcohol and Sexual Health) Suffolk County Council
Professor Tessa Parkes Professor of Substance Use and Inclusion Health University of Stirling
Dr Matthias Pierce Research Fellow University of Manchester
Dr Jeremy Segrott Lecturer Cardiff University
Dr Jenny Scott Senior Lecturer in Primary Care University of Bristol
Dr Tara Shivaji Consultant in Public Health Medicine Public Health Scotland
Dr Christian van Stolk Director - Evaluation and Audit RAND Europe
Professor Obioha Chukwunyere Ukoumunne Associate Professor University of Exeter
Professor Anne Whittaker Professor and Clinical Academic University of Stirling
Miss Alice Wiseman Director of Public Health for Gateshead Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council

Interested in joining one of our committees? Please contact us via email on

Contact us

We offer a wide variety of assistance during all stages of the research process. If in doubt, please get in touch. Email: Our operating hours are 9am to 5pm.

Do you need help getting started? Contact the Research Support Service (previously supported by the Research Design Service).

Do you need help finding collaborators? Contact the NOCRI team