Reducing drug risk

Picking syringeMay 2009

A collaborative CASE studentship between the University of Plymouth and Plymouth Drug and Alcohol Action Team has influenced new drug-related policy and practice.

In the 1980s the UK experienced a rapid increase in the number of people injecting drugs and a lack of agencies which could influence their behaviour or provide equipment to help combat the spread of blood-borne disease. This coincided with a collapse in the availability of clean injecting equipment, and saw an escalation in dangerous practice such as sharing needles and other equipment.

Research by Stephen Parkin, with supervisor Dr Ross Coomber, has revealed how places produce risks, how policing and other service activities can displace rather than resolve risk, and has led to discussions of new practice such as locating safe injecting outlets in places of need.

Funded by an ESRC CASE Studentship as part of a long-standing collaboration between Plymouth Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT) and the University of Plymouth, Dr Parkin walked the streets of the city with drug agency workers and others with direct contact of drug-injecting issues, photographing drug-injecting sites and discussing how the nature of those sites affected their work with users. Two further stages involved interviews with drug users – first at a needle exchange, and then later at injecting sites.

The result is an invaluable database of over 70 injecting sites, documenting viewpoints of both agency workers and drug users. Dr Parkin's work has been particularly well received by Exchange Supplies – an established agency set up by drug workers to develop new products, produce publications and stage conferences. They are now considering collaborating with him on video materials for drug workers on the subject of drug litter.

Impact

  • The research has influenced Plymouth Drug and Alcohol Action Team's thinking around service reviews, needs assessment and environmental health policy.
  • The findings have informed the placement of needle bins and helped DAAT target those most at risk for Hepatitis vaccination.
  • Information from the research is now being used by a Plymouth needle exchange to decide how needles are distributed to drug-users.
  • DAAT is planning to embed annual CASE applications in forward planning. Partner teams in Devon and Cornwall are also looking to support applications with Dr Ross Coomber.

Further information

  • The Effects of Place on Health Risk – A Qualitative Study of Micro Injecting Environments (ESRC grant PTA-033-2006-00012)