My research will help those affected by heroin use

Former substance misuse worker Sharmila Kumar is a second year PhD student at the Centre for Criminology Research at the University of South Wales. Her KESS-funded PhD is in partnership with Gwent Drug and Alcohol Service (GDAS).

About the PhD

"Most of us have seen heroin users on the street on our daily commute to work or when we are going about our day-to-day life in the town centre. Some of us may give money or even buy lunch for this person who uses heroin. However have we ever stopped to think about the person behind the heroin use and their life experiences?

"Imagine you are feeling sick with the worst flu ever but you still have to get up, go through dark alleys and ring dealers to find heroin, because in your mind, that is the only thing that will make you feel normal. Add then the pressure of trying not to get caught by the police because heroin is an illegal drug. This is the harsh reality for many people who are dependent on heroin.

"Research has shown than methadone and buprenorphine can help heroin users in many ways.  But why is there still an increase in heroin-related deaths and why are some people still not benefitting from treatment?

Why it’s important

"When someone uses heroin for a long time and they suddenly stop using the drug, they may experience flu like withdrawal symptoms. Methadone and buprenorphine are normally prescribed at doctors and nurses to help with these withdrawal symptoms. This treatment is called Opiate Substitute Treatment or OST.

"Research has shown that this treatment is highly beneficial in improving the health and social wellbeing of heroin users. However there is a significant proportion of heroin users on long term OST programmes who are struggling to achieve benefits from treatment.

"My PhD is looking at reasons why this population is struggling to achieve benefits from treatment and what could be done differently to improve their wellbeing.

"Sadly there has been an steep increase in opiate related deaths particularly in Wales. Research is vital to save lives of those affected by heroin use and support family members.

"There has also been increased attention on the relation between drug use and perpetration of offences. The recent media focus on knife crime and increased policing highlights the need for more research that could reduce offending levels.


"Before my PhD, I was working in the substance misuse field as an active treatment worker. I enjoyed the work and gained a sense of satisfaction from empowering people to make a positive difference to their lives.

"I started to notice that there was a significant proportion of clients who were struggling to achieve benefits from treatment. They often entered and exited on a regular basis, so they clearly wanted to achieve change. During this time, the opportunity arose to complete a PhD in this area and I jumped at the chance.

"The research will involve interviewing people who have a history of being engaged with long term OST programmes but are struggling to achieve benefits; people who were previously struggling to achieve benefits from treatment but who have now improved; and staff members who have direct experience of working with these groups.

"I love how the PhD is changing the way I look and think about issues. It has challenged my preconceived ideas about how to help heroin users on long term treatment programmes.  I had previously looked at the benefits purely from the client's perspective, maybe because of my previous experience as an active treatment worker. But I am now viewing the project from criminological, societal and political perspectives.

Studying at USW

"Doing my PhD at USW has been amazing! It has been a good mixture of research, training, working with different people, conferences and presentations. 

"The supervision team, led by Professor Katy Holloway, has been amazing and supportive. Their expertise in the field of substance misuse as well as their infinite patience and support have definitely helped to keep me motivated!"

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