Innovative research will provide insight into drugs habits and trends in Greater Manchester

The GM TRENDS project will give an unparalleled overview into drug taking behaviour, habits and attitudes as well as the nature of products themselves, the drugs market, and the profiles of users, over the last six months. 

The project, which has been commissioned by Greater Manchester Combined Authority, will be delivered by Manchester Metropolitan University.

GM TRENDS will build on the existing Manchester Emerging Substance Use Survey, that has been running since 2018, incorporating the other nine Greater Manchester local authorities.

The multi-method approach to the research has never been adopted before in the UK and is expected to provide a model of best practice that other areas of the country can follow. 

Researchers are looking for public support with the first strand of the project, an online questionnaire open until December that covers 44 substances from alcohol to zopiclone – a sleeping pill used to treat insomnia. Professionals and, uniquely, drug users are encouraged to complete their versions of the survey and answers can be given anonymously. 

In the second phase of the project, researchers will speak with professionals working in a wide range of sectors including children’s services, education, homelessness and supported housing, criminal justice and health services and substance use services to provide more detailed insight. 

The third strand comprises detailed analysis of drug samples tested by MANDRAKE, the Manchester Drug Analysis and Knowledge Exchange, a drugs testing research project based at Manchester Metropolitan, which has been developed by MMU and Greater Manchester Police to test non-evidential drug samples, along with samples submitted by other external agencies. 

MANDRAKE’s  work not only identifies the components of substances, but provides in-depth information such as purity and potency within a short timeframe. This builds on the existing relationship between MANDRAKE, GMP and the GMCA that enables the Greater Manchester Drugs Early Warning System to issue public alerts about any serious dangers of drugs in circulation on the back of MANDRAKE’s laboratory testing. 

The survey findings, in-depth interviews and drug testing results will inform a ‘trends focus’. This involves a deeper exploration of particular users groups where new drug trends have been identified as a cause for concern in order to better understand the motivations, risks and service development needs.

The results of the GM TRENDS project will be used to inform and develop more responsive and tailored harm reduction policies, initiatives and services and to raise awareness of emerging drug trends and potential harms to a range of frontline professionals. 

The results of the GM TRENDS project will be used to inform and develop more responsive and tailored harm reduction policies, initiatives and services and to raise awareness of emerging drug trends and potential harms to a range with frontline professionals. 

Rob Ralphs, Reader in Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University, who is leading the team of researchers, said: “This research aims to gather up-to-date information on changing and emerging substance use trends in Greater Manchester.  

“The findings are used to help ensure that commissioners and service providers are best placed to understand their local needs and the services and responses required.  We therefore want to encourage both substance users and professionals working with substance users to complete the short online survey from across Greater Manchester. 

“We aim to monitor emergent drug trends from a wide range of sub-populations, in particular those identified as vulnerable to higher-than-average or problematic drug use. 

“Our work in Manchester has already led to significant harm reduction in relation to Spice and the identification of emergent drug trends amongst young people including a recent trends focus on Xanax and the codeine-based mixture ‘Lean’, and we are excited to be expanding this across the 10 Greater Manchester areas.” 

Bev Hughes, Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice and Fire, said: “I welcome the GM TRENDS project.  The research undertaken will help to provide insight into drug-taking trends in the city-region on a scale we have never had before.  

“Participants in the survey could help to save lives and I hope people across Greater Manchester will get involved.” 

Those working with substance users can take part in the key respondent survey at while non-professionals with personal experience of current local drug scenes and markets can complete the survey at

A final report to the GMCA is expected in March 2021 and it is hoped the results of the GM TRENDS survey and substance analysis will also inform and inspire policy development and debates. 

Professor Richard Greene, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “This project builds on the strong partnerships we already developed in Greater Manchester and continues the collaborative response to the complex issues presented by drug use.

“GM TRENDS allows us to make use of our expertise in sociology, criminology and forensic analytical chemistry to gather evidence that will help our partners to develop effective harm reduction strategies and programmes.

“I believe that our pioneering approach sets a best practice benchmark that others will aspire to.”

Article Published: 09/11/2020 15:19 PM