Methodological challenges and policy relevance of studies on substance use in nightlife settings: the case of the Nightlife Study in the Netherlands
Background: General population studies give a good picture of the most used substances. However, such monitor studies are less suitable for signalling the emergence of new drugs and to obtain in-depth information about less used drugs. Monitor studies that recruit directly among drug users have the disadvantage that no prevalence estimates are possible. To fill this gap in information, a monitoring study among nightlife attendees has been conducted in the Netherlands since 2016. In this presentation we show what information this monitor has provided for policy and risk assessments and describe methodological limitations of the approach.
Methods: The recruitment strategies and characteristics of the sample over the three measurements are described. We show how the questionnaire was set up and which topics we have explored through varying modules and describe examples of policy issues for which the data has been used.
Results: The study provided information on the emergence of new drugs such as 4-FA and ketamine and has been an important data source for national risk assessments (4-FA, laughing gas and 3-MMC). The results raised awareness regarding health risks. Flexible modules allow for exploring recent trends. Also, in the framework of policies aiming to counter denormalization of party drug use, questions were included on the intention of young adults to reduce or cease substance use, which revealed remarkable results, relevant for prevention. Methodological issues included the necessity to adjust the recruitment strategy across measurements, which resulted in differences in the composition of the samples. Furthermore, a sampling frame is lacking; thus, the representativeness of the sample cannot be assessed.
Conclusions: The Dutch experience shows that monitor studies in the nightlife setting have a clear added value. Despite methodological limitations, they provide important information about trends in use of (new) substances that are generally not captured in general population surveys.