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Novel Psychoactive Substances: practice implications and solutions


By Andy Meakin, Director, VOICES

A multi-disciplinary community of practice


VOICES is hosting a Community of Practice to look at the issue of novel psychoactive substances (NPS), the implications of use for practice, and potential local solutions.


The event is aimed at professionals with interest in NPS use and its implications for practice, social policy, or strategy in the context of health, social care, criminal justice, or community safety.  We will be inviting people with lived experience of NPS use to participate in the community and give their perspective on this topical issue.  Previously referred to as ‘legal highs’, last year the sale of NPS was banned by Parliament in May 2016.


NPS use has been portrayed in the popular media as an epidemic of criminality and antisocial behaviour.  In March 2017, the Daily Mail ran an on-line story under the headline “Rise of the zombies”.1  The article states that, “drug experts are warning of a Spice epidemic that is spreading from the North-West, driving a wave of crime and casualties that the police and emergency services are struggling to cope with.”

Since the introduction of the ban, many observers note that the price of these substances has fallen while availability has increased.  It’s argued that competitive pressures have also caused the manufacturers to increase the potency of their products.  At the same time, the perceptions of the authorities is that use continues to increase despite its obviously damaging impact on users wellbeing and the cohesion of communities.

Commentators in the mainstream media often portray people using these substances as, at best, hapless victims of addiction behaving with irrationality – “zombies”.  At worst, the same people are portrayed as a dangerous, unpredictable, and even violent criminal underclass – “wave of crime”.1  In this rendering of the issues, it’s tempting to see people’s circumstances of homelessness and ill health as a consequence of their NPS use.

Other commentators offer a wider perspective that casts NPS use in the context of broader social issues such as poverty and destitution.2  People using NPS state that use often overlaps with other forms of deep social exclusion, like homelessness, physical and mental ill health problems which are also linked to socio-economic deprivation.


The numbing impact of NPS in even relatively small amounts can last for ten hours which is a long period of relief for a relatively low financial price.  In this rendering of the issues, the pendulum swings towards NPS use being a response to the trauma of poverty, destitution, physical or mental ill-health which has been caused by other perhaps more complex factors.


The community of practice will discuss all this and more.  Participants will share their experiences and perceptions of the issues and challenges including positive practice and new ideas.  Communities of practice are a safe space where people bring their lived experience as people and professionals with expertise.

Through the discussion, we will aim to set out the key issues locally, tackle some of the wicked problems presented, and present realistic recommendations for practice, policy, and strategy for the attention of local decision-makers.


If you would like to take part, please email your name, job title, organisation, telephone number and any specific access or dietary requirements to [email protected] by 20th July 2018.


Lunch and refreshments will be provided – including cake.




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