Lancashire Drugs Threat Assessment

Lancashire County Council and Lancashire Constabulary

LARIA Research Impact Award 2015: Best Use of Social Care or Health Research (Commended Entry)


The aim of the product was to provide a geographical analysis of drug activity across Lancashire, identify hotspots and highlight emerging trends in drug supply and usage amongst the population of Lancashire.

Data/information was obtained from a number of partners including police, public health, North West Ambulance Service, probation, treatment providers and Trading Standards so that a more rounded view of the problem could be sought rather than simply looking at police data and the number of arrests for specific drug types.

This data allowed us to look at and highlight area problems for the partners involved – e.g.  in relation to drug use for treatment services and offender profiles for a policing perspective. We were also able to look at the emerging issues across the county and the effects that these could have on future service provision.

This information has been used by the partners to ensure that the correct service provision was available to target the relevant groups in the correct areas across Lancashire.


The Lancashire Drugs Threat Assessment is an example of using data from a number of partners to highlight the problems across the area and obtain a broader intelligence perspective.  The objectives were to provide a geographical analysis of drug activity across Lancashire, identify hotspots and highlight emerging trends in drug supply and usage amongst the population of Lancashire.  The research was aimed at challenging assumptions that partners have around drug use and services – historically, it has often been stated that the drug problem relates to class A drugs, with little attention paid to other substances.

As mentioned, one of the objectives was to look at the overall problem rather than specific drug types, and let the data tell us what and where the problems were.  There was consultation with a number of partners, such as police and public health, so that we could highlight any common themes, gaps in the process and emerging threats to the area.

In order to demonstrate the knowledge of the population around drug use and treatment services available, information was obtained from public surveys that had previously been carried out.  The results showed that there appeared to be more knowledge in the areas that suffered from higher levels of drug related crime and numbers in treatment.  Open source research was conducted to look for issues both globally and nationally and for any reasons as to why there was a shift in drug use.

The key findings from the assessment highlighted a divide in drug use within the population: individuals under the age of 30 tended to be more attracted to cannabis, cocaine and NPS, while older individuals were more attracted to heroin and amphetamine use. Cannabis use amongst the younger population in treatment has increased during the last 5 years from half to two-thirds and services have had to adapt accordingly.  There was also an increase in the use of NPS – these issues have to be addressed by health/treatment services in the coming years as it appears that the opiate use may become less frequent amongst the population.  The increasing use of NPS will have an impact on A&E and ambulance services due to the continuing changes in the composition of these types of drugs and the requirement for relevant treatments to be administered.

One key response from public health/treatment services was that the services are commissioned to deal with the treatment requirements of the population and not just specific drug types.  This is to ensure that there are services available for any person with a drug problem, e.g. whether it is class ‘A’, cannabis or NPS related –historically, it was a common perception that treatment services were only available for those suffering from opiate and alcohol abuse.

As a response to findings within the assessment, further pieces of work have been commissioned, including looking at the extent of the problem around NPS.  Public health and Trading Standards across the county are also beginning to look at legislation around the selling of such substances and whether there are any powers available to close the premises – eg ASB legislation.

What should LARIA members learn from this award entry?

This piece of work highlights the need to challenge and move away from the ‘historical’ thinking in relation to a problem – e.g. that drug threats/use are always linked to class A substances (heroin and cocaine).

The report has shown that treatment services are providing a very good service and numbers in treatment for opiate use are reducing – but now the services need to adapt to the changing face of the drugs market and the needs of the population.

By sharing intelligence, learning and understanding from partner agencies, it has enabled us to identify common issues which they can then address – whether it be cannabis use, NPS, young people’s issues or necessary changes to treatment services.

Photo Credit: ‘Blackpool North Pier Sunset’ by Michael D. Beckwith