In March 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK and Welsh governments closed all schools. This meant the FRANK friends intervention could no longer be delivered. Prior to school closures, the intervention was delivered in full to five out of the twenty schools we had intended. The FRANK friends Trial Management Group did not believe this was enough schools to be able to detect any effects and recommended the study be closed. The Trial Steering Committee agreed with these recommendations. We are working with our funder to plan how the study will restart.
The latest UK data indicate that 37% of 15 year olds have ever tried an illicit drug. There are short- as well as long-term effects on health arising from illicit drug use amongst young people. Schools provide a systematic and efficient way of reaching a large number of people every year. Studies evaluating school-based drug prevention interventions have found few prevent or reduce student drug use, with only a handful taking place in the UK. In response, an effective school-based peer-led smoking prevention intervention (ASSIST) was adapted that has been delivered to around 120,000 UK students to deliver information from the UK national drug education website: www.talktofrank.com. In interviews and focus groups in the pilot study of this intervention, students, teachers, and parents, all thought the intervention was acceptable, easy to deliver and could have promising effects on drug use. The pilot study was too small to evaluate whether FRANK Friends could prevent drug use, and so a larger trial to evaluate effects on illicit drug use will be conducted.
The study started in the Spring of 2019 with the collection of baseline date in autumn and winter 2019 -2020. The training and intervention will begin in the autumn term 2019. The study final data collection will be in the autumn term 2021. Results will be available in 2021.
The study is funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Wales, the NIHR Clinical Research Public Health Research Programme, NIHR PHR (project number 12/3060/03). The intervention is funded by Public Health Wales, the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN): West of England: South Gloucestershire Council; Bath & North Somerset Council.
This trial will introduce and evaluate FRANK friends (the “intervention”) which is an intervention-peer-led drug prevention programme. In each school, students in UK year 9 (aged 13-14) will be asked to nominate fellow students who they think are influential. Students in receipt of the top 17.5% of nominations are asked to become peer supporters. Those who agree receive 2-days training out of school on the information on the effects and risks associated with specific drugs, minimising potential harms, and the law from www.talktofrank.com. Peer supporters practise communication skills including, listening, negotiation, and how to talk with their peer group about drugs. They are then asked to have conversations about the harms of drug use with their peers over a 10-week period and record them in a diary. During these 10-weeks peer supporters receive four follow-up visits from trainers at school to provide support. There will be 40 schools in the trial and they will be randomly split into two groups, twenty will receive the intervention, and twenty will form a comparison group, and will continue with usual practice, the trial will include approximately 5655 students.
Before the intervention is delivered, questionnaire data will be collected from all students in year 9. In these questionnaires the use of drugs ever, in the past year, month will be measured as well as lifetime and weekly smoking, and quality of life. These things will be measured again 24 months after the intervention is delivered. The researchers will be looking to see if there are positive changes in student drug use, and whether these changes are greater within schools that received the intervention compared to schools that did not. Interviews with peer supporters, other students and trainers will also be conducted and training sessions will be observed to explore what happened during the training, how people feel about the intervention, and in what ways it has been useful. Finally, the cost of the intervention will be calculated, and weighed up against any benefits in terms of student drug use, to see if it provides good value for money.