Home > A dizzying array of substances: an ethnographic study of drug use in the Canal Communities area.

Saris, A. Jamie and O'Reilly, Fiona (2010) A dizzying array of substances: an ethnographic study of drug use in the Canal Communities area. Dublin: Canal Communities Local Drugs Task Force.

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This is a study of changing patterns of drug use in Inchicore, Rialto, and Bluebell, the areas served by the Canal Communities Local Drugs Task Force (CCLDTF), using data collected from September 2007 until the end of 2008, with some follow-up work in 2009. This report grows out of a belief within the Task Force that the ideas and structures that emerged as a response to the ‘drugs’ crisis (almost exclusively defined in terms of opiates) in the 1990s might not be as relevant as they once were to drug use today, given the area’s rapidly developing built environment, changing demographic make-up, and the sense that the younger generation has a different understanding of (and perhaps different appetites for) ‘drugs’.

The analysis is conducted through an ethnographic examination of the lives of drug-users in the Canal Communities area, alongside quantitative data that we collected and some tabulation of secondary statistics. These data are analysed together to give a sense of the issues relating to drug use and treatment in this area, as well as a feel for the experience of drug use and drugs services. While such data is, by its very nature, difficult to summarize, our most important findings are:
• Poly-drug use (almost always combining illegal drugs, legally-obtained pharmaceuticals and illegally-obtained, but otherwise legal pharmaceuticals) is the norm for the overwhelming majority of drug use in the Canal Communities area (and, we suspect, in most other places in Ireland).
• Nearly all of our qualitative and quantitative data demonstrates that the population ‘in treatment’ for opiate use has a range of unmet needs. It should be kept in mind, then, that people, not drugs, are the focus of any meaningful definition of treatment.
• While we lack a true baseline, we believe that crack use is increasing. In particular, its use seems to be increasing among those users already ‘in treatment’ for opiates.
• There are few clear, locally meaningful markers of problematic cocaine (either powder or crack) use, especially in comparison with problematic opiate use. Nonetheless, injecting cocaine (‘banging’) is widely considered to be very dangerous.
• Overall, drug-dealing is professionalizing at its entry level, and leaving drug use for ‘treatment’ does not necessarily mean that one leaves the business of drugs. In several of the stories below, we show how heroin use has been restigmatized amongst young people.
• The clear-cut categories of government policy, such as ‘drug-user’ and ‘treatment’ are difficult to discern at the local level. At the same time, ironically, the flexible understanding of ‘treatment’ by Local Drugs Task Forces is often difficult to justify to government funders. This divide needs to be bridged.

All of these findings have implications for how drug use is imagined as an issue and, consequently, what responses are appropriate to address the problem. They all require a more comprehensive understanding of the complexities of use and a more mature reflection on the meaning of such terms as ‘treatment’ and ‘services’ for drugs problems.

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