An exploration of a new heroin outbreak

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


After more than twenty-five years of intense political conflict, euphemistically referred to as the 'troubles' Northern Ireland (NI) began its ongoing, faltering transition toward peace. Precipitated by the arrival of the paramilitary ceasefires in August 1994, this peace process has lead to a major transformation of the political and social landscape of Nl. Alongside the declared cessation of political violence by paramilitary organisations, there have been substantial decreases in military security operations and police numbers (Northern Ireland Office, 1999, 2002). The signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 paved the way for the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly (currently suspended) and its Executive Committee of Ministers, and the devolution of power from the UK Government to locally elected representatives. Drug policy was included within this transfer of executive authority. The decrease in political conflict and resolution of the long-standing problems associated with the sectarian and divided nature of Northern Ireland culture, has been accompanied by a growth in so-called 'normal' patterns of crime and of social problems hitherto, masked or somehow suppressed by the Troubles (e.g., Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland, 1999; McElrath, 2004). A noteworthy example, heroin and injecting drug use, which did not emerge in a significant way in Northern Ireland until the mid to late 1990s. The phenomenon, whereby drug injection is newly introduced or shows signs of rapid increase, has been documented in a range of locations experiencing socio-political, economic and cultural change (Donoghoe & Lazurus, 2005; Subuta, 2002; Fitzgerald, 2005). The clear existence of a link between these two has been evidenced in the international literature (UNODC 2002; Aceijas, Stimpson, Hickman et al., 2004; Fitzgerald, 2005). Northern Ireland represents a unique and still under researched example of this phenomenon in a UK context. By paying attention to its particular circumstance, further study of it affords opportunity to gather ever more nuanced data on the emergence and sequelae of injecting drug use in the region. To that end through examination of a vanguard location for heroin use in Northern Ireland, Ballymena, this study seeks to generate rich description and insight into the implications for heroin users, health and social care policy and service providers and wider society when significant heroin and injecting drug use take grip for the first time. It is proposed that in so doing, the study offers a contribution to the knowledge base in the field of addiction, by examining a heroin outbreak in a context that has a combination of features rendering it, and the data produced from it, including theoretical insights, original.
Date of AwardJul 2007
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorRosemary Kilpatrick (Supervisor)

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