Drug users: community, social exclusion and gendered experiences

Neild, Jill (2006) Drug users: community, social exclusion and gendered experiences. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Those who use heroin and other Class A drugs have been labelled by successive governments since the 1980s as the `enemy within'. Problem drug users, it is claimed, threaten the social cohesion of local communities and put the lives of honest citizens at risk. Anti-drug campaigns have rallied the nation to wage a `war' against drugs, but some commentators have argued that this is actually a war against drug users.
British drug policy, it is argued, acts to legitimise and reinforce discrimination, stigmatisation, marginalisation and the social exclusion of Class A drug users, particularly female drug users. This research sought to investigate the social exclusion of heroin users within a high crime area of North East Lancashire. To achieve this aim a survey was undertaken in the area, which in addition to asking the non drug-using residents how they dealt with living in a high crime area, sought to understand their opinions of and behaviour towards those residents believed to be using heroin. The findings of the survey indicated many residents felt their quality of life had seriously been affected by the high amount of crime committed within the area and the majority of these residents claimed the drug-using residents were responsible for this crime. Responses given during the completion of the survey strongly suggested that most non drug-using residents had strong feelings of animosity towards those residents believed to be using Class A drugs and this was confirmed by the negative responses the non drug-using residents gave when discussing the drug-using residents. An understanding of the social existence of those using illicit substances was also sought and this was gained through an ethnographic study of male and female heroin users resident within the area. The findings of the ethnographic research were that drug use was a gendered activity and while both male
and female heroin users suffered from discrimination, marginalisation and social exclusion, female heroin users were more `demonised' than male heroin users. This study concludes by making recommendations for changes in policy which, in addition to addressing the deprivation experienced in high crime areas, could also address the discrimination and stigmatisation drug users, especially female drug users, experience. These may also afford drug users the opportunity to overcome social exclusion and return from the margins of society.

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