ASSIST+Frank – trialling a peer-led approach to drug prevention


By Kim Madden

The National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) programme funds research to evaluate interventions aimed at improving the health of the public. Their scope is broad and multi-disciplinary and it is this programme of funding which is making it possible for a team of academics including staff at Cardiff University from DECIPHer and the South East Wales Trials Unit to undertake an exciting pilot trial.  Staff from the ASSIST+Frank research team were invited to attend a project welcome meeting.  James White, chief investigator and I (Kim Madden, trial manager) took a very early train to attend what ended up being a productive and rather sunny day in Southampton!  The main objectives of the welcome meeting were to make contact with key people including our programme manager, to meet with peers and hear about other funded projects, and to gain an insight into the high quality and standards necessary in the management of our project. James gave a presentation and overview of the ASSIST+Frank trial which was followed by an opportunity for peers to raise questions and for us to consider in more detail the challenges ahead.

What is ASSIST+Frank all about? 
Reducing youth drug use is a public health priority, and as methods of identifying individuals likely to transition from experimental to long-term drug abuse are not available, a universal approach to drug prevention is appropriate.  With co-investigators from the University of Glasgow, University of Bristol and the Institute of Education (University of London), we aim to adapt an effective peer-led smoking prevention intervention (called ASSIST) which is already delivered to year 8 pupils in many UK secondary schools.


So where does Frank come into it?
Peer supporters from ASSIST will be approached in year 9 to continue to extend their role to cover drug use prevention, receiving further training, information and resources provided by Talk to Frank, the UK national drug education service.  We’re calling this programme ASSIST+Frank.  We will also develop a standalone peer-led drug prevention intervention using the ASSIST model but replacing the content on smoking with drug education – we’re calling this bit ‘FRANK friends’.  We will pilot ASSIST+Frank and FRANK friends in one school and make any necessary tweaks and changes before launching into the final stage of a pilot trial.


And for those of you wanting a little more information about the trial …
This is a four-arm trial.  We will deliver ASSIST+Frank in three secondary schools, FRANK friends in three schools, a further three schools will receive just ASSIST, and three schools will act as a control group (so will not receive ASSIST, ASSIST+Frank or FRANK friends). We will assess illicit drug use at the start of the study and again after 18 months.  We will interview some students, parents and staff to explore the acceptability, likely mechanisms of change, and effectiveness of ASSIST+Frank and FRANK friends.

For further information on ASSIST+Frank, please see the project information page or contact Kim Madden at DECIPHer on 029 20687 908/ 029 20879 655 or email

Kim Madden is a research associate at DECIPHer, based at Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences and the South East Wales Trials Unit (SEWTU).

The ASSIST+Frank project is funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health Research (NIHR PHR) Programme (12/3060/03).  The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR PHR Programme or the Department of Health.

Image source: 
Photo of drugs sign – Chris Goldberg, via Flickr
Photo of schoolchildren – World Bank Photo Collection, via Flickr

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