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Keywords:

  • addiction;
  • attitudes;
  • drug abuse;
  • health care staff;
  • illicit drug users;
  • perceptions

Over the 30 years of conflict, Northern Ireland escaped the worst excess of illegal drug trafficking and usage. However, the recent ‘peace dividend’ has brought with it an unprecedented rise in the availability and use of illicit drugs. With this, new problems and pressures have been brought to bear on the health service. The literature would suggest that drug users are loathed and feared by health care staff. Staff will also admit to be lacking in the knowledge and skills necessary for the delivery of appropriate support and treatment for this client group. Further, the literature has little to offer on the experiences and aspirations of drug users in relation to their treatment and the staff who care for them. In order to understand the drug users’ experiences of health care and health staff, focus group methodology was employed to obtain qualitative data. A total of 20 illicit drug users from across Northern Ireland took part. Supporting the literature, all had experienced ‘care’ that they felt was filled with judgement, hostility and loathing. They recognized clearly the challenge they pose to health care staff. These findings indicate that there is obvious dissonance between those tasked to care for drug users and drug users themselves, with little respect being shown on either side. Results suggest that action needs to be taken to address the deficits in the knowledge, skills and values of health care professionals in relation to illicit drug users. The findings will be of interest to service providers within and outside the United Kingdom.