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£5 million Innovation Fund to reduce recreational drug use

Published: 09 March 2023

Five projects aimed at reducing so-called recreational drug use have been awarded £734,000 from NIHR as the first allocation of a £5 million grant, with the remaining funding available across two further phases.

As part of the government’s Drug Strategy Innovation Fund, Phase 1 will see the successful applicants begin the initial stage of their projects offering a range of education-based programmes, skills development for young people and community outreach.

Each project is developing interventions to help reduce drug use that will then be evaluated. Those that are successful, and new projects, will be able to apply for further funding in Phase 2 which will launch later in the year.

Projects for phase 1 are based in Huddersfield, Derbyshire, Manchester, Dorset and the South East of England and will include schemes tailored to meet local needs. The projects include pop-up pods at festivals and events to educate people on the harms of using drugs, as well as workforce support to help young people develop personal and social skills to reduce vulnerability to illegal substance use.

Other projects include training programmes for night-time economy staff, such as people working in nightclubs, as well as experts from public health, voluntary services, the NHS and the police.

Health Minister Neil O’Brien said: "Stopping drug use in its tracks is essential to protecting people and the community from the harms caused by addiction, which has devastating impacts and drives half of all crime.

"Projects like these will pave the way for new research into preventing drug addiction and enable us to meet our national strategy aim to cut drugs and crime."

This is part of government plans to reduce the demand for drugs and will decrease the number of people requiring treatment as well as drive down the illegal and exploitative supply chain, anti-social behaviour and wider crime.

The Department of Health and Social Care and the Joint Combating Drugs Unit – a cross governmental team based in the Home Office – selected the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to lead the research bidding process.

The selection process focused on encouraging creativity and innovation – looking at prevention of experimental drug use or early intervention as a way to prevent people going on to problematic or dependent use in the future.

Projects shown to be successful after evaluation and implementation in specific areas will be considered for national roll-out across the country, to stop drug-taking in its early stages. The results of the studies will also be used to build a world-class evidence base on how to tackle drug use.

Professor Lucy Chappell, NIHR Chief Executive Officer, said: "This is a really positive step towards expanding the evidence base on this important issue. I hope that the range of projects in this, and future phases, will identify effective interventions that can have a real impact across the country in the future. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of these projects."

Projects were chosen following a competitive bidding process and passing an independent assessment committee made up of experts.

Funded projects

Evaluating Change Grow Live’s Derbyshire 1625 Outreach service’s impact on reducing demand for illicit drugs amongst young people and young adults (aged 16-25) and improving wider health and social outcomes - Change Grow Live

Reducing demand for illicit substances in young people through co production, skills training and early intervention - University of Huddersfield

Developing and refining a universal, multi-component drug education programme for 13-15-year-olds - The Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation

Reducing Demand for Recreational Drugs through Harm Reduction-based University Education: Developing and Refining The Staying Safe Programme - University of Manchester

Feasibility study in Dorset (Dorset Council and BCP Council area) to test the effectiveness of upskilling our workforce in delivery of personal and social skills education intervention, and a targeted social marketing communication campaign, which will test the reach and effectiveness of attitude change to substance use - Dorset Council

For more information about the Innovation Fund, please contact You can read more about the Fund on the call specification page

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