New research reveals experience of drug use amongst people from minority ethnic groups
A new report by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), in collaboration with RSM UK Consulting, which explores non-opiate and cannabis drug use in minority ethnic groups, was published today.
The research was funded by the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and aimed to address the evidence gaps around drug use in minority ethnic communities, particularly focusing on experiences that are related to harmful drug use and barriers to treatment and support. The report is based on three work strands: a review of pre-existing literature, secondary data analysis and qualitative in-depth interviews with professionals and people from minority ethnic groups with experience of problematic drug use.
The report reveals that experiences of drug use are driven by a range of intersecting factors, including culture, gender, mental health, and migration experiences:
- People with experience of problematic drug use felt that normalisation or acceptance of drug use within their friendship or social group influenced their behaviours;
- Some spoke of their desire to fit in, while others mentioned that their White British peers provided an opportunity for exploration of substances that were not accepted within their own communities or families;
- The relationship between wealth and drug use is complex and multi-factored. There are links between drug use and challenges such as poverty and unemployment, which are experienced disproportionately by some minority ethnic communities;
- People with experience of problematic drug use stressed the convenience of accessing substances, generally believing that drugs were easy to access;
- They discussed using substances to manage mental health challenges, including those influenced by trauma, isolation, discrimination, and social exclusion.
The research found that minority ethnic groups face specific barriers to accessing and engaging with treatment and support services, including stigma, lack of trust in services and lack of culturally competent services. Based on the findings of the qualitative in-depth interviews, the report presents recommendations for more equitable access to treatment and support for people in minority ethnic groups going forward:
- Improving knowledge about and trust in support and treatment services; this should involve existing organisations and representatives already integrated into communities and healthcare professionals. In addition, there is potential to address misconceptions and stigma with community leaders;
- Providing culturally appropriate approaches, enabling service users to have as much choice and flexibility as possible could help ensure different needs and preferences are met;
- The report recommends a key area of focus should be partnership, working with service users and representative organisations to enhance service provision;
- Holistic support services need to recognise all aspects of service users’ lives and broader barriers to treatment success, including mental health, housing, and employment challenges.
- Accessibility and responsiveness also need to be considered (for example, online vs. in-person delivery and opening times).
Priya Khambhaita, Project Director and NatCen Research Associate said: “To support those struggling with drug use and tackle health inequalities in this area, there was a need to know much more about the ways in which drug use affects different minority ethnic communities in the UK. Our research helps to fill this gap in the evidence base, providing important insights which can be applied to help improve access and engagement with treatment and support.”
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Notes to editors:
- The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, aims to make life better through high quality social research (www.natcen.ac.uk).
- This independent research was carried out by NatCen and was funded by the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Public Health Policy Research Unit. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the National Institute for Health and Care Research, the Department of Health and Social Care or its arm’s length bodies, and other government departments.
- The NIHR funds, enables and delivers world-leading health and social care research that improves people's health and wellbeing, and promotes economic growth.
- This study began in July 2022 and was completed in September 2023. The study included a literature review of existing publications on the subject of drug use in minority ethnic groups, secondary data analysis of the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) and the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), and in-depth interviews with 14 professionals involved in the design and delivery of treatment and support services and 24 people from minority ethnic communities who self-identified as having experiences of drug use which had been problematic.