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MDX professors spearhead massive EU drug use research project

13/02/2020
The research will be unveiled at a two-day final conference at Middlesex University which features a packed programme of academic and professional speakers.

Picture: Creative Commons

A massive European research project spearheaded by Professor Betsy Thom and Professor Karen Duke at Middlesex University has made a number of recommendations on how to help young people who have been in contact with the criminal justice system and have used drugs.

The MDX Drug and Alcohol Research Centre working with partners in five other European countries will share their findings and advice on best practice with health, prison and social workers across Europe who work with this target group.

The research will also be unveiled at a two-day final conference at Middlesex University on Thursday and Friday which features a packed programme of academic and professional speakers.

The project - called Exchanging Prevention practices on Polydrug use among youth in Criminal justice systems (EPPIC) – was funded through a €599,511.79 grant from the Health Programme of the European Union.

"Don't treat children like they're kids, don't treat young people like they're idiots, that's the worst time. All they're going to do is shut you out and resent you. Approach them as a friend, approach as someone who cares and if you don't care, don't work in the field.' Male, 18, told EPPIC researchers.

It focused on the experiences of 198 young people aged between 15 and 24 who use drugs and have been in contact with the criminal justice system in the UK, Italy, Denmark, Poland, Germany and Austria.

Researchers in these countries interviewed young people and practitioners in prisons, secure settings and community-based projects.

In the UK, MDX academics, working with the national health and social care charity,Change Grow Live (CGL), the Health Opportunities Team and Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, interviewed young people and practitioners along with staging a series of focus groups and workshops.

The key findings from the EPPIC project were:

  • Most young people who are drug experienced and in touch with the criminal justice system have a range of complex problems, including mental health issues and social difficulties (home, school). This means that responses aimed to prevent/ reduce drug use will not be effective if those other problems are not addressed.
  • For this target group, most of whom already use drugs, prevention must be understood in broad terms to include early intervention to prevent escalation of use or progression to more harmful use, harm reduction approaches to address associated problems, and therapeutic approaches for those with more severe drug use
  • The criminal justice context poses constraints on services for these young people and barriers to what practitioners working with them can offer. In particular, the abstinence approach, often required within criminal justice, may limit the offer of harm reduction measures.
  • Young people are likely to experience stigmatisation due to the illegal status of drugs and the criminalisation of drug users. This will make it more difficult for them to find positive social roles and ‘new’ positive self-identities
  • There is a need to ensure good health and social support for young people leaving the criminal justice system. This should include practical assistance with everyday living as well as assistance with drug use and associated problems.

‘Polydrug’ use means the use of more than one drug by an individual.

Change, Grow, Live (CGL) is a voluntary sector organisation specialising in substance use and criminal justice intervention projects in England and Wales.

Raj Ubhi, Head of Operations for Children & Young People's Service at CGL, said: “Many young people face the type of disadvantage and adversity that sees them involved with drugs, alcohol and offending.

“These represent a grave threat to their future health, happiness and safety.

“Not only theirs, but that of their loved ones and wider community also.

“Yet there is strong evidence to suggest that preventative strategies can make a real difference to those engaging in risk taking behaviours.

“Being both drug experienced and involved in the youth justice system represents unique challenges however - there has, up until now, been limited research and guidelines on what 'good' prevention approaches look like for this specific audience.

“We therefore welcome this research and the supporting quality standards and are optimistic that they will support critical thinking across the sector on how we can best empower our young people to reach their full potential.”

For more information about the EPPIC project, visit www.eppic-project.eu and follow us on twitter: @EPPIC_Project

Find out more about the Middlesex University Drug and Alcohol Research Centre

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