Raising awareness

Angelus Foundation

Image: Angelus at Brownstock Festival, Essex speaking to festival goers about legal drugs

The Angelus Foundation seeks to raise awareness of the dangers of young people taking legal recreational drugs, also known as legal highs (such as experimental research chemicals, or ones sold as plant feed). These legal highs, which are nevertheless harmful, emerge as alternatives to drugs such as cocaine and MDMA. There is rarely much research available about their potency, negative effects from human consumption, or when used in conjunction with other substances or alcohol.  

The Foundation has received a grant of £40,000 from Maudsley Charity, which has gone towards funding its awareness-raising campaign, including a recent film that was launched on social media.

History of the Foundation

The Angelus Foundation is comprised of a group of experts which make up the Angelus Advisory Board, who bring together their expertise from chemical, medical and behavioural sciences, and the areas of enforcement and misuse of substances.

The Foundation was founded in 2009 by Maryon Stewart, the health practitioner, author and broadcaster, as a result of personal tragedy.

Her 21-year-old daughter, Hester, who was a medical student and athlete, passed away after consuming what was (at the time) a legal high called GBL in April 2009.

Aim of the Angelus Foundation

The Foundation has already had success in lobbying government departments to take action against this social issue – including persuading them to include a section on legal highs on Talk to Frank (the government drug information service).

In May 2013, Angelus forced Amazon to withdraw all legal highs for sale on their websites across the globe.  

It has presented to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Reform (chaired by Baroness Meacher) and the Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as lobbying ministers directly.

In October 2014, the Home Office published its review on legal highs. The Foundation was successful in persuading the Government and all main political parties that legislative action should be taken against the open sale of these substances. The Foundation will now work with officials and MPs from all parties to ensure these commitments are met.

Reaching out to young people

In addition to high-profile lobbying, the Foundation goes even further than this by aiming to communicate with young people on their own terms.

Jeremy Sare, Director for Policy and Communications at Angelus Foundation, and who has been with them from the very beginning, says, ‘We need to reach young people in the way that they prefer to communicate, so our website ‘Why not find out?’ has been critical in delivering that. Equally, developments of short films – a much better means of getting information across than having lots of wordy webpages – have been important.’

Funding from donations has helped the Angelus Foundation to reach a far wider audience than they would have otherwise, by helping them to effectively promote their public health campaign against legal highs.

Their latest film, Lab Rats, was funded by Maudsley Charity and launched on social media on 12 December 2014. It’s about high street head shops (places that sell legal drugs and paraphernalia) and targets their sale of technically legal products which actually pose a real risk to users.

‘The campaign had an entirely social media-based launch which was very successful. Including teaser clips, it came to over 65,000 views,’ Jeremy says.

Adapting to changes in the market

The dangers of the legal high market have changed since the start of the Foundation and have in some ways become more urgent. Jeremy says, ‘Initially it was about raising awareness to young people about the high risk of experimentation, given that these have unpredictable side-effects – a safe dose is almost impossible to measure – but over time there have been certain groups who have fallen in to more regular use. The issues are now about dependence, addiction and mental health issues.’

‘We’ve been very grateful for the support we’ve had from Maudsley,’ says Jeremy. ‘It’s been absolutely critical to our campaign and pivotal in our ability to deliver to our target groups.’

Though they’ve had a lot of success in raising awareness of legal highs, the work of the Angelus Foundation is not over yet. Please help support organisations like this by making a donation.