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Articles - Dance/party drugs & clubbing
Written by Carol Handy   

Changes in drug use among Cardiff club goers: The emergence of heroin use.

Carol Handy & Richard Pates

Inroads Drug Project, 43 Lower Cathedral Road, Riverside, Cardiff, CF1 8LW, UK

Phone no: +44 (0)29 20 407 407 Fax no: +44 (0)29 20 236 136

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A survey about the use of drugs in dance culture was undertaken over a 12 month period between the years of 94/95, and was published in 1998.

500 people were interviewed to identify what drugs they were using and 389 acknowledged they were using ‘ecstasy’. Some 5 years later the development in different drug use is being considered within this group.

Out of 500 people, 389 acknowledged ‘ecstasy’ use, mainly in a club or rave environment although some used it in their own home. Amphetamine was used by a great percentage and cocaine was mentioned, mainly cocaine powder as opposed to ‘crack’ cocaine. The majority of respondents used cannabis in a variety of settings and LSD was also mentioned. Other drugs were used in small numbers: 5% used Ketamine, GHB and ‘magic mushrooms’.

The study did not look at heroin use because it was not a concern at that time. The clubbers were strongly anti-heroin and would not in any way associate themselves with the use of opiates.

In the early days The Cardiff Community Drug Team produced matches which advertised needle exchange schemes. Distribution of materials advertising NES was frowned upon by both clubgoers and managers and as such was not considered appropriate for the club scene. This was quite reflective of the views of the group at that time.

Stimulant use in South Wales has always been high, although cocaine use has been less common. Previous findings identified that cannabis was used in the home after attending dance events and consuming stimulant drugs. One may consider the use of Cannabis at this time, as a panacea to reduce the ‘come down’ from using Ecstasy or Amphetamines.


Other surveys

In 1992 Gilman discussed the typology of drug users in Britain and suggested that there were at least two distinctive groups. Group A consisted of dependants who were mostly in clinical services. Group B are recreational users for whom drugs were an adjunct to their night life. Group B drug users at that time did not inject and were not dependent on their drugs of choice. Gilman concluded that the most pressing task was to keep the groups as far apart as possible.

However, in 1998 Parker et al reported a concern about the increase of heroin use in Britain. He reported that it was supply lead, with major importation of heroin from Southwest Asia. There was a fall in price, good availability and high purity. It was available in £5 and £10 deals and it was actively marketed and smoke-able. In South Wales the drug treatment agencies had become aware of the increased use of heroin, especially ‘brown’ heroin, with the cheaper street prices and the possibility that some users did not know that brown was in fact heroin. Many users were smoking it and this carried with it the perception that smoking heroin is not addictive and therefore is not a risky activity.

Shewan et al conducted a survey in Scotland in 1998 into a group of heroin users who are not in treatment. This sample group of 74 had never been in touch with services, had never served a custodial sentence and had started their heroin use at a relatively late age, which was around 22. A proportion of the sample were reportedly heavy users with high levels of dependence but there was also a significant minority of the sample being relatively new users of opiates. It was also suggested that opiate use may be increasing among users of dance drugs.

In a multi-centred European study in 1998, Calafat et al. looked at nightlife and recreational drug use in nine European cities. There are reported increases in heroin and ‘crack’ cocaine use, but only largely unsubstantiated anecdotal reports of this use within the dance scene. He also found reluctance to admit to opiate use amongst peer groups within the dance scene. In this study 92% of people had never used heroin or opiates, whereas 7% had tried it but the majority claimed sporadic use, and only 1.2% of the group took it daily. However, there are reports from one of the reporting centres in this observatory of an increase in its use in European countries, and that most synthetic drug users and other youth populations up until now have not had any contact with the substance.


The Cardiff Heroin Survey

It was rumoured locally in Cardiff that clubbers were using ecstasy and then ‘brown’ to help with their come down. In his report Parker et al found some evidence that heroin was being used as a ‘chill out’ drug by young clubbers, that is used after clubbing, not in the club. It was considered as occasional heroin use, also identified by Powell (1973) and Zinberg (1984). Many heroin users do not become dependent, nor do they commit crime to feed a habit. Therefore they do not come to the notice of treatment or law enforcement agencies. They remain a hidden population. Due to these factors they are also difficult to study and to engage in research.

The question of whether this phenomenon is happening in South Wales seemed important to ask. The pilot study was carried out to try to answer this, and also whether the users of ‘brown’ were becoming dependent. The knowledge and experience of conducting previous research within this scene did not initially consider the personal reluctance from respondents to engage in research regarding the use of heroin. The situation arose when the research was conducted with those known to be using heroin. Therefore other methods had to be used.

It was found that it would not be possible to do a prevalence study, given the limited resources and the difficulties of contacting what was essentially a hidden population.

It was decided that a snow-balling technique would be employed. Contacts made over a considerable period of time, within the Cardiff club scene were approached to make further contacts within this hidden group of heroin users. The respondents were asked to complete a very short questionnaire which required little personal information and therefore helped to protect their anonymity, which was a major concern for those involved

The aims of the survey were threefold:

  1. To ascertain whether the people known as clubbers were using heroin;
  2. Whether they knew that ‘brown’ was heroin;
  3. Whether they were expecting problems of addiction.

The interviewees were contacted either by the Safer Dancing Service or by posters in a non-statutory drop-in drugs agency in Cardiff. It was explained that to take part in the survey, participants needed to have been part of the club scene or the free party scene and to have used heroin. All respondents were guaranteed anonymity and no names were used in the questionnaire. Knowledge and use of ‘brown’ was asked about separately and before asking about other drugs, including heroin. The respondents were not paid for their time.

In total 17 males and 11 females were interviewed. The males’ ages ranged from 17–34, with the mean age of 25.5 years. The females’ range in age was from 19-36, with a mean age of 27 years. Of the males 11 were employed and 6 were unemployed. Of the females 5 were employed, 1 was in the sex industry, 4 were unemployed, 1 did voluntary work and 2 did not respond to this question.

All of the respondents admitted using ‘brown’ and were aware that brown was also heroin.

The entire male sample admitted using heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamine, valium and cannabis, and 16 had used methadone, ‘crack’, cocaine and LSD; 15 had used ‘poppers’; 13 had used di-hydracodeine; and 12 had used Ketamine. Self-reported dependency in the male group identified dependency in the following numbers and range of drugs: 9 said that they had been dependent on heroin; 3 on cannabis; 3 on cocaine; 2 on ‘crack’ or amphetamine; and 1 on methadone, valium and ecstasy.

The entire female sample used heroin and cannabis, whilst 10 had used cocaine, amphetamines, valium, ‘poppers’ (amyl nitrate), LSD; 9 had used ecstasy, ‘crack’ or di-hydracodeine; 8 had used methadone and 6 had used ketamine. Self-reported dependency was noted in 9 out of 11 females with the following drugs stated: 9 stated dependency on heroin; 4 on cannabis or amphetamine; 3 on valium; 2 on di-hydracodeine ‘crack’ and cocaine; and one on methadone.

4 possible reasons for use could be given and some responded in more than one category: 8 males and 8 females said they "wanted to try it"; 1 male and 4 females said "it was suggested by another person"; 6 males and 4 females said "it helps with the come down from ‘ecstasy’"; and 5 males and 1 female said they did it for "other reasons".

One ‘other reason’ was stated: 1 male reported use after a break up with his girlfriend, and 4 said "they saw their mates doing it and they wanted to try it" (contrary to research findings which highlighted the necessity to reinforce the personal choice element). Of the female respondents, 1 stated that she had used heroin to deal with the bereavement of her dog. She had, however, been using heroin previous to the death of her pet.

Other reasons were also given:

"My friends were starting to smoke ‘smack’ so I gave it a try and I found that I really liked it";

"I started to use it more and more until I became dependent";

"I saw other friends doing it and it looked good";

"All my mates were doing it and I wanted to try it";

"I first went to heroin because friends around me were using it";

"Not all of my friends were using it and some were even against it and it was my decision to try it after partying and clubbing on 15 Es";

"I used to get a bit down on Sunday after I had been out clubbing on the weekends so me and a few of my mates clubbed together and bought half a gram. We went around to one of my mate’s flats and we all had a go of smoking it out of foil. It made me vomit the first time but it made me feel really chilled. I would not inject it though and I would not do it through the week but it is okay just doing a bit".



There is evidence to suggest that certain clubbers are using heroin as a ‘comedown’ drug. This group of people are not a random group of clubbers, and it is not suggested that their drug use is typical of those on the club scene. However, the group that was previously researched were noticeably not heroin users and, as Gilman pointed out in 1992, the two groups of drug users were separate. Clubbers were recreational users who did not use opiates. It may be that this is now changing and with the wider use and availability of heroin the two groups may at some point cross over.

It was clear that all those questioned knew that the ‘brown’ they were taking was heroin, and that they were taking it in the knowledge of what it was and the reputation that it had. This group were poly-drug users, who were into a wide variety of drugs, especially stimulants. 16 out of the 28 were employed and may have had more disposable income. The older age range may also reflect on the club scene and the fact that the women were older may reflect that they started their clubbing later. It is not really any specific group on the club scene.

Many of these people are not in contact with statutory services in the city, which could be because they feel they do not have a problem; they are scared for their jobs. There is also a sense of shame from some of them because of previously held negative opinions of heroin, and in Cardiff this is probably the predominant group of youngsters currently on the club scene.

This was a pilot study, which tried to look at a situation that remains hidden and is very difficult to access. The results of the study cannot be generalised in terms of making claims for a problem with heroin. However, the fact that among this group 28 people were interviewed in only two months, suggests that it is worth doing further research with a larger group of people, and asking them more detailed questions. There were no questions about intravenous use and no reliable ways of estimating respondents’ own perceptions, which were self-reported

This is a group of people, however, who are using a wide range of drugs, some of which have been avoided in the past because of the stigmatisation around the use of opiates and possibly the unavailability within those groups. It may be that these are a group of people who previously avoided accessing traditional drug services and consider this a necessary gesture to maintaining anonymity.

We may also be seeing a greater spread of opiate drugs into a scene that traditionally was mainly involved in recreational use of stimulants. In view of these findings it is important that services do not discriminate against these users. Services may regard these findings in the provision of appropriate, accurate and effective information to minimise the potential for harm. Few of the respondents involved in the research perceived themselves as being in need of traditional service provision. However, future developments should regard club based services as appropriate and necessary avenues for disseminating information on potentially dependency-forming drugs. This will enable those involved in this culture to feel secure in accessing appropriate interventions to meet their needs.



1. Handy C, Pates R, Barrowcliffe A (1998) Drug use in South Wales, Who uses Ecstasy Anyway? Journal of Substance Misuse, vol 3 no2, pp. 82-88

2. Gilman M (1992) No more junkie heroes. Druglink, May/June pp.18

3. Parker H, Bury C, Eggerton R (1998) New heroin outbreaks amongst young people in England and Wales, Crime Detection and Prevention Series, Paper 92, Home Office, London.

4. Shewan D, Dalgarno P, Marshall A, Lowe E, Campbell M, Nicholson S, Reith G, McLafferty V, Thompson K (1998) Patterns of heroin use among a non treatment sample in Glasgow (Scotland) Addiction Research 6 (3) pp.215-34.

5. Calafat A, Bohrn K, Monserrat J, Kokkevi A, Maalste N, Mendes F, Palmer A, Sherlock K, Simon J, Stocco P, Tossman P, van de Wijngaart G, Zavatti P (1998) Nightlife in Europe and Recreative Drug Use, Sonar 98, IREFREA & the European Commission, Palma de Mallorca.

6. Powell DH, (1973) A pilot study of occasional heroin users, Archives of General Psychiatry, 28, 586-594.

7. Zinberg N, (1984) Drug set & setting the basis for controlled intoxicant use, Yale University press, New Haven, Con.


Our valuable member Carol Handy has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.