Over the last ten years, there has been a worldwide expansion of research on drug use among university students. However, this trend has been less noticeable in the United Kingdom.
To address this gap in knowledge, SURG researchers launched the Higher Education Alcohol and Drug Survey (HEADS), which was a national survey of substance use among university students in Wales. Eight of the nine universities in Wales supported the research and seven universities agreed to send a link to the online survey via an individual email at the start of the 2015-16 academic year.
The survey questionnaire covered a range of topics including: tobacco and e-cigarette use, illegal drug use, use of new psychoactive substances and illicit use of prescription drugs. The survey was repeated in three of the seven universities in the 2016-17 and 2017-2018 academic years and included additional topics on gambling, offending behaviour and victimisation. Over the three-year study period, nearly 15,000 survey responses were obtained from university students in Wales.
While the HEADS project was focused on the distribution of an online survey, it also included a longitudinal study (led by Dr Marian Buhoicu) that tracked a small cohort of first year students (recruited via the online survey in 2015-16) through their time at university and beyond. Work on this aspect of the HEADS programme of research was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic but is ongoing.
To date, SURG researchers have published five peer-reviewed journal articles based on the HEADS survey data. Each article focuses on a specific issue including: characteristics and correlates of drug use, drug markets, alcohol-related harms, drug and alcohol-related crime, and victimisation experiences.
Holloway, K. and Bennett, T. (2019) The association between drinking motives and alcohol-related harms among university students in Wales: A survey across seven universities. Journal of Substance Use, 24(4): 407-413.
Holloway, K. and Bennett, T. (2019) How do students source and supply drugs? Characteristics of the university illegal drug trade. Substance Use and Misuse, 54(9): 1530-1540.
Bennett, T. and Holloway, K. (2018) Drug and alcohol-related crime among university students, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 62(14): 4489-4509.
Holloway, K. and Bennett, T. (2018) Characteristics and correlates of drug use and misuse among university students in Wales: A survey of seven universities, Addiction Research and Theory. 26(1): 11-19
Holloway, K. and Bennett, T. (2018) Alcohol-related rape among university students, Victims and Offenders. 13(4): 471-486.
HEADS was funded by USW in collaboration with Welsh Government and was the first national survey of university students in the UK. It has identified previously unknown information about substance use and related behaviours among students and has generated data that can be used to help guide the development of appropriate interventions that might help to reduce harm.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented a particular threat to people with substance misuse problems and services had to adapt fast to help maintain services and keep people safe from harm.
To ensure that lessons are learned from the pandemic, a collaborative research project was undertaken by a partnership of staff and peer workers from Barod, Kaleidoscope Project and USW, with support from Welsh Government and Developing a Caring Wales (DACW). The research generated a rich set of data on the experiences and challenges faced by service users, frontline staff and senior managers/decision-makers during the lockdown period. Three reports were published as a result of the research project: Peer-led review report, Staff impact report and Senior Managers and Decision-makers report.
During the webinar we presented findings from each strand of the research and heard directly from those with lived experience of coping with substance misuse problems during the pandemic as well as from those working to help support them.
We hope that you find the webinar informative, engaging and useful for helping to identify ways of optimising substance misuse services moving forward into a post-COVID world.
SURG was commissioned by Barod (a major third sector substance misuse treatment provider in Wales) to undertake an evaluation of a new Digital (Webchat) Intervention Service. Barod had planned to pilot the Webchat Service in one area of Wales (Cwm Taf) but the COVID-19 pandemic led them into rolling it out more widely in order to provide greater avenues for support to people in need.
The Webchat Service is modelled on the instant access webchat service set up in Scotland by We Are With You (formerly Addaction) in July 2018. It aims to create a virtual real service for people to get free and confidential help immediately, including out of hours.
The evaluation was undertaken by SURG members over a one-year
period and used a variety of methods to assess the
implementation, delivery and, where possible, the effectiveness of Barod’s
Webchat Service. Overall, the evidence collected suggests that Barod’s
Webchat Service is achieving its aims of widening access to substance misuse
support for those in need. Since being launched in April 2020, Webchat
operators have engaged with large numbers of different kinds of service users
and have provided a Service rated almost unanimously as very positive and helpful.
The evaluation report can be accessed by clicking here.
SURG has been commissioned by Thames Valley Police to conduct an evaluation of a new Home Office-funded role: the South East Heroin and Crack Action Area Co-ordinator.
The project includes both a process and impact evaluation (as far as possible) and involves the collection of quantitative and qualitative data using a combination of methods including: shadowing, semi-structured interviews, an online survey targeting key partners, and secondary data analysis.
The main focus of the evaluation is on establishing how in practice the co-ordinator role works, what they do on a day-to-day basis, what they have achieved in terms of outputs over the study period and what impact their work has had on relationships with key partners and on problematic drug use and associated behaviours.
SURG members are conducting the research and at the end of the study period they will provide a written report to Thames Valley Police (and the Home Office).
The project is important for SURG members in several ways, including: helping us to extend our networks of contact beyond Wales into England, strengthening partnerships with police officers who are working hard to reduce drug-related harm, and sharing best practice from England with colleagues in Wales (and vice versa).
In collaboration with colleagues from Figure 8 Consultancy and Glyndwr University, SURG members were commissioned by Welsh Government to investigate the possible unintended consequences of introducing a minimum price for alcohol in Wales.
The main aim of the study was to explore the extent to which switching between substances might be a consequence of the increase in price.
More specifically, the study had eleven objectives, four focusing on individuals working as providers of services to people with alcohol problems (i.e. service providers) and seven focusing on people receiving support from those services (i.e. service users).
The research focused on adults aged 18 and over who were either resident in Wales or involved in the delivery of alcohol services in Wales. Interviews were conducted with 49 service users and 38 service providers (including operational management and frontline staff). Surveys were completed by 100 service providers and 93 drinkers.
In terms of the main aim of the study, the research found that for the majority of drinkers, the only switching or change in use was anticipated to be a switch in the type of alcohol consumed or a change in purchasing behaviour.
Switching between substances was thought to be unlikely for most people but might occur among certain groups, notably street drinkers and those with prior experience of drug use.
The research findings were written into a report which has now been published on the Welsh Government.
In collaboration with colleagues from Figure 8 Consultancy and Glyndwr University, SURG members have been commissioned by Welsh Government to undertake three projects evaluating different aspects of Minimum Pricing for Alcohol in Wales (MPA).
MPA was introduced in Wales on 2 March 2020 with the primary aim of reducing alcohol-related deaths and alcohol-related harm.
The projects are longitudinal in nature and will examine the impact of MPA over a five-year period on the general population as well as on those using substance misuse treatment services and those providing those services.
The primary methods of data collection will be online surveys and semi-structured interviews conducted prior to implementation and repeated at 18 months and 42 months post implementation of the legislation.
The baseline report was published on 8th of July 2021 and it can be accessed by clicking here.
Findings of further sweeps of the longitudinal study will be written up at various intervals and used to inform the implementation of the legislation moving forward.
In 2018, SURG was commissioned by Welsh Government to conduct a study into the misuse and diversion of prescription-only and over-the-counter medication (POM/OTC) among people who use illegal drugs.
The study was conducted in collaboration with Dr Rhian Hills from the Substance Misuse Policy Branch within Welsh Government.
The research was undertaken across Wales and was based on
The main aim of the study was to identify the causes, patterns and consequences of POM/OTC misuse and diversion among people with a history of illegal drug use.
The research provided new evidence on the motivations for non-medical prescription drug use among people who use illegal drugs in Wales. This included how:
The research was important as prescription only medicines (i.e. medicines that can only be obtained with a prescription) are increasingly implicated in drug-related deaths in Wales, particularly when used in combination with illicit opioids.
Notable increases have occurred in relation to tramadol, benzodiazepines, antidepressants (such as mirtazapine and amitriptyline) and gabapentinoids (ONS, 2019).
The report is available here. A further peer-reviewed academic journal article based on the findings of the report was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. The article can be accessed by clicking here.
SURG has been commissioned by Gwent Police to conduct an evaluation of a new Home Office-funded initiative: the Gwent Heroin and Crack Action Area.
The project includes both a process and impact evaluation (as far as possible) and involves the collection of quantitative and qualitative data using a combination of methods including: semi-structured interviews, an online survey targeting key external partner agencies, and secondary analysis of relevant datasets.
The main focus of the evaluation is on establishing what impact the HACAA has had on key outcomes (e.g. fatal and non-fatal overdoses, drug-related crime, drug seizures, naloxone kit distribution) over the study period as well as an exploration of the impact the HACAA has had on relationships with key partners.
SURG members are conducting the research and at the end of the study period they will provide a written report to Gwent Police (and the Home Office).
The project is important for SURG members in several ways, including: helping us to extend our networks of contacts within Wales, strengthening partnerships with police officers who are working hard to reduce drug-related harm.
Shannon Murray (Research Assistant at the Substance Use Research Group, SURG) in collaboration with Professor Katy Holloway, Dr Marian Buhociu and Visiting Professor Rhian Hills (Senior Drug Policy Manager for Welsh Government) has been awarded funding from USW's Knowledge Exchange and Innovation Fund (KEIF) to undertake a feasibility study that will focus on substance misuse among LGBTQ+ communities.
The goal is to pilot a small-scale collaborative project that seeks to minimise the harm experienced by people with substance-misuse problems within the LGBTQ+ community. The findings will inform the development of a proposal for a larger project that will be submitted to the ESRC (or other funding body). The project will fill an important gap in knowledge and is likely to be attractive to funders given the high levels of political and public interest in issues surrounding inclusivity.
There is significant substance use among the LGBTQ+ population, which research suggests is higher than in the wider population. This is combined with barriers to accessing support or information from formal services (Buffin et al, 2012; LGBT Foundation, 2021; Welsh Government, 2021; Institute of Alcohol Studies, 2021; Williams et al, 2015).
Hidden Figures (2020) reported that substance use within the LGBTQ+ populations may be a consequence of the lifelong discrimination, marginalisation and isolation often experienced by people within these groups. These issues are not fully addressed or understood, largely due to a lack of qualitative research investigating the drug and alcohol use behaviours of LGBTQ+ groups and their treatment needs. Consequently, there is substantial risk of continued hidden harm among LGBTQ+ populations.
Our research project will focus exclusively on LGBTQ+ communities and seek to understand why some people in these groups use drugs and/or alcohol and why there is an underrepresentation of these groups within drug and alcohol services. We are working collaboratively with our partner, Gwent Drug and Alcohol Services (GDAS), to conduct interviews with LGBTQ+ individuals with lived (and living) experience of substance use in Wales. It is important to understand the experiences of people from within the LGBTQ+ groups and to provide them with a voice, as they are at a greater risk of hazardous alcohol and drug use than heterosexual cis-gendered men and women.
This project will add to the existing portfolio of harm-reduction focused research undertaken by the SURG. We will draw on the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people with substance misuse problems and help to fill an important gap in knowledge. The research seeks to improve the future health and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community, to promote inclusivity and to provide a voice to those that have hitherto been largely hidden.