‘I quit heroin for meow’: A qualitative study of the use of new psychoactive substances among problem drug users in South Wales

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    New psychoactive substances (NPS) appeared on the drug market in 2005/2006 reportedly in an attempt to circumvent existing drug legislation. At first, they appealed mainly to young, recreational drug users. However, in the second half of 2012, reports from a few countries around Europe indicated that NPS had also started to make their way into the repertoires of long-term users of heroin, amphetamines and cocaine (often referred to as ‘problem drug users’). In the UK, the first reports of NPS use among problem drug users came from South Wales, in the autumn of 2012. Albeit anecdotally, drug agencies, local newspapers and the police in this area reported that long-term heroin users had switched to injecting a stimulant NPS – mephedrone, which was previously only popular among recreational drug users.

    Little is known about NPS use among ‘problem drug users’ as research has tended to focus on recreational drug users. The thesis fills this gap in knowledge by investigating the motivations and characteristics of NPS use among a sample of problem drug users in South Wales.

    Three qualitative research methods were used, in combination, to investigate NPS use at initiation, during periods of persistence and at desistance. This involved: (1) in-depth interviews with 26 problem drug users, 17 of which were repeated after an average of six months, (2) in-depth interviews with 11 experienced drug professionals, and (3) a 13-month microethnography at a busy drug treatment service operating in South Wales.

    Zinberg’s (1984) classical drug, set, setting theoretical framework, not previously used in relation to NPS use, was adopted to disentangle the findings of this study. The analysis revealed that setting factors were most important in terms of initiation. Yet, a complex interplay of set, setting and drug were important for persistence and desistance. Stigma and ‘recovery capital’ played a particularly important role in explaining desistance.

    The results of this study have implications for policy and practice in the field of substance misuse, most of which relate to access to, content and delivery of substance misuse treatment programmes. In addition, the findings can inform drug policy, drug legislation, criminal justice interventions, prevention and harm-reduction initiatives.
    Date of AwardJun 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKaty Holloway (Supervisor) & Fiona Brookman (Supervisor)

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