Heroin screws you up

For many young people in Britain, their previous drug use acts as a gateway to further drug use. The sudden availabity of heroin during the 1980's stimulated curiousity and experimentation: "I just wanted to see what it was all about. I mean, we'd used other drugs and got a good hit and we just wanted to try smack to see what it was like. " Peer group pressure also played a key role in the heroin "epidemic": "We just used to hang around with each other and it was just one of those things, like, that you'd never done before.

We got into pot at the same time, we got into acid at the same time and then there was more smack around than pot, so we got into that. " A strong correlation has been made between poverty and drug misuse in Britain. The heroin problem throughout the 1980's was particularly experienced in areas suffering from high levels of unemployment, housing decay, and social deprivation. The arrival of heroin in abundance coincided with the economic recession that followed the 1981 budget.

Johnson argues that drugs such as heroin have played a part in a vicious circle in which working class areas have been subject to deterioration as a result: "The expansion of use of hard drugs, and particularly of heroin and cocaine, is both a symptom and an important factor in the continued relative decline of inner city communities and persons who reside in those communities. " Heroin was largely centred around the inner cities, where youth were engaged in street-oriented activity, suffered boredom, and had a limited lifestyle due to increasing unemployment.

Howard Parker, Keith Bakx and Russell Newcomb conducted a study of heroin users in the Merseyside city of Wirral, one of the most notorious victims of the heroin "epidemic" during the 1980's. Despite having a significant middle class population, Wirral also encompasses a large and poor working class core, and has been described as being a "microcosm of a 'two nations' contemporary England".

They conducted a survey of the records of official agencies concerning known drug users (multi-agency enumeration) and interviews with natural networks of heroin users to determine the ratio of the extent of "unknown" users to those known to official agencies. The findings of this research indicate a possible range of 1,550 to 1,850 individual problem drug users in Wirral during 1984-5 out of a population of 340,000. A staggering 81 per cent of these people were opiate users, 81 per cent of whom were unemployed.

The vast majority of known opiate users during this period were adults under thirty, of which over half were aged between eighteen and twenty-two. Known opiate use in Wirral was largely concentrated in socially-deprived communities. One in ten youths on the most affected estate, Ford, were known heroin users during 1984-5; Ford also had the highest rate of unemployment in Wirral during this time and its residents were suffering high levels of social deprivation.

Geoffrey Pearson, in A Land Fit for Heroin has linked unemployment with heroin use, which serves to provide the disenchanted individual with a sense of escape from the harsh reality: "The problem of heroin misuse which has recently taken a new turn in some of Britain's run-down, working-class neighbourhoods and housing estates must be set alongside the burden of mass unemployment which lies upon so many of these same localities. "

Mugford and O'Malley challenge this "retreatist" explanation: "Deficit theorists see heroin use as compensation for hard times, portraying these users as victims of unemployment who resort to drug use as a compensation for the deficit. " They demonstrate that despite being victims of social inequalities throughout the 1980's, a low percentage of ethnic minorities were involved in heroin use: ". . . In spite of the higher levels of unemployment, educational disadvantage, housing deprivation, etc.

, experienced by Britain's black communities, black people were considerably underrepresented among known heroin users. " Although heroin in Britain is linked with social factors such as poverty, unemployment and school truancy, not everyone who is poor uses drugs. Additionally, despite the fact that the heroin "epidemic" spread throughout depressed council estates in Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool, it is fundamental to consider that other socially deprived areas such as Belfast had a low record of heroin misuse.