The drug and alcohol charity Addaction published a report on Wednesday on New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), called “The View from Young People”. The charity, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this month now employs specialist recovery workers that focus on outreach to help those with problems relating to NPS.

The report surveyed over 1,600 young people on the use of NPS and what can be done to help people who are experiencing problems. It found that nitrous oxide (also known as ‘laughing gas’) and synthetic cannabinoids (such as ‘Spice’) are the most commonly used. Many young people use these drugs to cope with difficult situations, but sometimes experience significant adverse effects to physical and emotional wellbeing.

The report also found that under 25s were not deterred from taking NPS by the recent change in laws that made them all illegal. Many do not approach mainstream drug services for help with problems related to these substances either, due to worries about stigma and confidentiality. A number of those surveyed said they would like anonymous services available, such as online or telephone advice, rather than face-to-face meetings, and want access to good quality information on how to use NPS safely rather than just “abstinence only” advice. Some reported wanting help specifically from people who have experienced substance misuse themselves. Finally, the research suggested that people want support to concentrate on the individual rather than the addiction, including efforts to help with education, employment, well-being and mental health.

Therefore, the report shows that anonymous support, combined with efforts to reduce the stigma associated with drug misuse could be helpful in supporting those with issues relating to NPS. Overall, Addaction’s NPS report suggested that more support and funding is needed for NPS-specific support services.

Source: ProMo-Cymru, Flickr
Empty laughing gas cannisters (Source: ProMo-Cymru, Flickr)

However, it may be relevant to point out that many of the harmful effects mentioned in the report are specific to synthetic cannabinoids – you are unlikely to experience anxiety and panic attacks from nitrous oxide, for example. Young people are not the group that is consuming synthetic cannabinoids on the whole, instead homeless people and prisoners are the most vulnerable. In fact, many of the issues mentioned in the report are not NPS-specific issues, particularly regarding engaging young people in services. When it comes to young people it may not be useful to focus on NPS at all, but on targeted outreach to help with problematic drug use in general, as well as changing the perception of services.

Dr Robert Ralphs, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University told Volteface:

 Many existing young people’s services have an upper age limit of 18 or 19 rather than 25. This means that college and university students are having to access adult services and in my experience, many young people and indeed, adults, still have the misguided perception of drug services as a place for injecting heroin users. Users of other substances often feel that services are not for them and that their own substance use may appear trivial in comparison.

Others are put off attending services that have the words ‘alcohol’ or ‘drugs’ in the title. If we are to follow the logic of taking a more holistic approach to substance use that includes more of a focus on mental health and wellbeing, sexual health and even healthy eating and diet, then something as simple as rebranding and removing direct reference to substance use may go a long way in engaging more young people into services.”

Addaction’s NPS report release has come soon after the current chair of the charity, Lord Carlile of Berriew, made comments, reported by The Guardian, that “the rates of drug-related deaths are at scandalous proportions”. He added that locking people up does not work and that treatment should be the sentence for people with drug, alcohol or mental health conditions at the root of their offending behaviour.

Words by Abbie Llewelyn. Tweets @Abbiemunch

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