The global landscape of drug use is shifting. In recent years there has been a rapid rise of synthetic drugs that mimic ‘traditional’ drugs of abuse. These synthetic drugs are mass produced in professional labs and the chemical composition varies dramatically and is constantly changing. For example, a recent synthetic drug (etonitazene) is 10 X stronger than fentanyl, the drug that has caused mass death from overdose in the USA. In context; drug deaths in the UK are at the highest level since records began. There is an urgent need to understand the rise of these drugs, how they interact with society and what strategies can be put in place to prevent the harm they do.
Criminalising drug users is now widely recognised as ineffective in almost all settings. There is now a recognition that a fundamentally different approach is required. Harm reduction has emerged to affect meaningful change to users and society. The approach is grounded in evidence-based interventions and a commitment to human dignity and compassion. Successful strategies include: Needle and syringe programs, opioid substitution therapy, overdose prevention and education and harm reduction counselling.
The Beacon aims to be a national hub of excellence in harm reduction research and implementation, combining effective partnerships with stakeholders with new technology and research. If we know what drugs are available and who is taking them, we can design effective interventions to prevent harm and death.
Understanding the landscape of drug use: We will monitor the landscape of illegal drug use with select partners in the region; understand what drugs are current, emerging and how this fluctuates; identify the using groups and risks to them.
Designing and implementing interventions: We will develop new tools to track novel drugs and provide rapid identification; work with local charities to provide harm reduction advice; work with prisons to support staff and users with up-to-date information.
Building effective lasting partnerships that lead to real change: We will grow a regional hub for sharing information on drugs and drug use that includes researchers at other Universities in the South West region, the police, prisons, homeless charities and addiction and mental health services.