The 1980’s under the influence of a Thatcherism saw the emergence of an entreprise culture, in which personal initiative, risk-taking and capitalism were key features. Drug consumption was to some extent another material possession in this burgeoning consumer culture, and financial rewards and the instant gratification of dealing often provided attractive alternatives to the dole. Boredom in a mundane lifestyle and the search for excitement, escapism and recreation is a feature common to drug use, dependant largely on availability of various narcotics.
In much the same way as ecstasy and amphetamines appeal to the rave generation of the late 1980’s and 1990’s, heroin provided an alternative: “Why not? There’s nothing else to do anyway except spend all day watching the telly. ” Heroin provided an entire social opportunity in which users were able to meet other people, visit new locations, experience new activities, and provide organisation in their lives. Many youth may get involved in what they perceive as being a lifestyle that offers risk and excitement.
The introduction of heroin into British towns and cities throughout this period offered an exciting pattern of recreation: “When the heroin first came round, there was a few into it . . . just a few . . . and they were, you know, the elite. And I just wanted to get into that, like. ” (Michael, 21 years, Merseyside) Despite the widely-documented link between heroin use and unemployment amongst youth subcultures, heroin in the 1980’s has b y no means been exclusive to the working class.
One user from a professional background describes her motivations for engaging in the drug: “It was for fun. And it was exciting . . . at first it was really exciting. To be so stoned that social conventions don’t matter, so you can walk into a place with complete confidence or be as outrageous as you like. . . It’s like stepping out on to the edge. And the first thing about heroin was this complete removal of any sense of responsibility, guilt, pressure. The ability not to care. ” There is no simple explanation for the heroin phenomenon of the 1980’s.
Rehabilitation patient Mark Esmand outlines the numerous factors in his decision to experiment with the drug in 1981: “You can’t expect people to understand if they’ve not taken drugs themselves. Most people take them to escape from something. I don’t know what it was for me, just the boredom of existing. It’s quite boring where I live, there’s nowt money around, nothing to do sort of thing. No jobs. It brings some excitement to your life. I didn’t have an especially unhappy childhood. Everybody seemed to be doing it, sort of a gang, used to get up to all sorts.
” There are a multiplicity of factors to explain the popularity of heroin with 18-22 year olds in the 1980’s in Britain. Law enforcement policy was vital in expanding the illicit market of heroin. The clinic system established in 1968 to a large extent prevented doctors from supplying their clients with heroin, and users looked to the black market rather than accept methadone treatment. The sudden availability of high-quality, cheap heroin from Southwest Asia was a significant contributer to the heroin phenomenon of the 1980’s.
The new form of heroin consumption known as “chasing the dragon” proved more attractive to a large number of youth than the socially taboo activity of self-injection. Myths circulated surrounding the non-addictive nature of smoking heroin, and there was little street wisdom amongst early users about the consequences of heroin use. Some people who had previously used other drugs were eager to experiment with the latest illegal substance to enter the black market. The sudden availability of the drug in many new communities resulted in localised “mini-epidemics” among friendship networks.
In a mundane lifestyle, heroin provided excitement, escapism and recreation in much the same way as the rave phenomenon of the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Poverty has been claimed to be a key factor, as the heroin problem throughout the 1980’s was particularly experienced in areas suffering from high levels of unemployment, housing decay, and social deprivation. The entreprise culture produced by Margaret Thatcher valued capitalist ideals of personal initiative, risk-taking and materialism, in which the instant rewards of heroin use and dealing often provided quick, attractive alternatives to the recession.
However, it is important to remember that not everyone who was poor used drugs and that a significant number of socially deprived areas such as Belfast were barely affected by the heroin “epidemic”. Additionally, various heroin subcultures of the 1980’s were composed of youth from middle class backgrounds. Ethnic minorities, who suffered some of the worst social deprivation had little involvement in heroin. Perhaps the most significant condition for the spread of heroin is an established distribution programme.
Whereas Glasgow, Manchester, and Liverpool had an organised system of distribution, resulting in dense areas of heroin misuse, other cities did not, resulting in a scattered and localised pattern of heroin consumption during this period. The motivations for taking heroin during the 1980’s were therefore complex and diverse. The increase of heroin throughout this period has had serious implications on the future of our society, increasing drug-related crime, and needlesharing has multiplied the risk of HIV infection and AIDS.