Innovative research methods needed to deal with recreational drug use

16 November 2018 08:59
Dr Karenza Moore
Dr Karenza Moore

More attention needs to be paid to recreational drug use at private parties, as well as bars and clubs, in order to better develop drug policies and interventions across Europe.

A report for the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), co-authored by Lancaster University Sociology Lecturer Dr Karenza Moore, along with João Matias, of the EMCDDA, examines how drug-use data are collected in recreational settings, and identifies the benefits and challenges of monitoring in these environments.

Monitoring drug use in recreational settings across Europe: conceptual challenges and methodological innovations, explores how to build a better picture of substance use in those settings.

“This report opens up an important debate for the European drug research community,” said Dr Moore.

Highlighted in the report is the need for standardised data-collection tools to improve comparability across Europe. The report analyses how self-report targeted population surveys in situ are becoming an increasingly important part of European monitoring activities.

Online self-report targeted surveys of ‘recreational drug users’ are also flagged as offering exciting opportunities. The need to include questions in general population surveys that might capture drug use in recreational settings is similarly raised.

The report shows how specific drugs, drug-using populations and recreational settings dominate investigations, while others tend to be ignored. Research largely focuses on night-time-economy locations, such as bars and clubs, leaving a significant knowledge gap around drug use in other recreational settings (e.g. private parties, illegal raves).

The point is made that drug use takes place in both private and public recreational settings and that targeted surveys need to focus on more diverse (and previously hidden) populations to include under-researched relevant spaces, places and times across Europe. It argues that those using drugs in recreational settings are not a homogeneous group, and that statistical data collected in this environment can capture this diversity, allowing for better designed and targeted interventions.

The report says: “Improved monitoring of substance use in recreational settings can help build a better evidence base for more balanced, proportionate drug policies aimed at prevention and harm reduction.”

It adds: “Looking to the future, there are positive signs that the complexity of studying drug use in recreational settings across Europe is being recognised… The European drugs research community is becoming attuned to the nuances of substance use in a range of recreational settings where many of Europe’s citizens want to spend their leisure time safely.”

The report also describes how biomedical data, drug-checking and wastewater analyses have emerged as novel data sources for capturing aspects of drug use in specific locales (although these should be treated with caution and supplemented with survey research when possible).

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