My Journey: 14. Wired In Ups and Downs, Part 1

In 2004, I became a regular writer for Drink and Drugs News, which was soon the UK’s leading magazine on addiction treatment. We conducted several research projects and wrote a booklet of Stories for the Peterborough Nene Drug Interventions Programme (Nene DIP), carried out qualitative research on harm reduction services in South Wales, and wrote an extensive profile of WGCADA. My talented undergraduate students played a significant role in our activities. (2,060 words)

1. Wired In Websites

By 2004, Daily Dose had become the world’s best-known news portal on drug and alcohol use and misuse. The website was updated daily (365 days a year) and on average contained links to 15 articles from professional organisations, the media, and other sources.

By its fifth birthday at the end of January 2006, it had over 4,000 daily subscribers (this later reached 8,000) and the equivalent of 20 million ‘hits’ per annum. Over 150 other websites linked to Daily Dose. The website seemed well appreciated, not just be these numbers but also the wealth of positive testimonials we received from around the world. Some of the testimonials can be viewed here.

Mind you, things were not always rosy with Daily Dose. I had struggled to raise the funding required to maintain the service for a long time. Also, there was an 18-month period previously when I was running the service myself (unpaid), getting up at 05.15 in the morning to work for 90 minutes before getting my two boys ready, taking them to school and nursery, and going off to work in the University. I returned to Daily Dose after dinner every night. Things were easier when Jim Young was working with us, and when we finally managed to get new sponsors from the UK and US.

We also ran the news portal Drugs in Sport (, which was similar in operation to Daily Dose but focused on a specific issue. The website was unique and held a key niche in the field. Our website continued to have customised content for practitioners, problem users and the general public, and formed part of the news portal service. It contained a unique collection of professional reports stretching back over four years.

Our other website,, continued to keep readers updated about Wired In activities, including our Personal Stories, research reports, magazine articles, and my university lectures. All our websites were developed by Ash Whitney of Wired Up Wales. 

2. Drink and Drugs News

In the summer of 2004, Simon Shepherd of the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP) was approached by Claire Brown and Ian Ralph, who worked for a public health magazine. They asked him whether there was a case for a regular magazine focused on the treatment of substance use problems to be distributed bi-weekly for free to the field. The idea was for costs of the magazine to be covered by advertising. Together, they sketched out the bones of what the magazine might look like, and came up with the name Drink and Drugs News (DDN). 

Simon contacted me and asked if I would meet with Claire and Ian, as he thought that Wired In could play an important role in this venture. The four of us met and planned a strategy. Soon after, Claire and Ian left their jobs, rented a new office near the Thames River in London, and a special new venture began. 

I remember how thrilled I was when I saw the first issue of a high-quality DDN come out on 1 November 2004, with a banner at the top reading ‘From FDAP in association with WIRED’. Mind you, I must make it absolutely clear that Simon and I (and our organisations) had little to do with the preparation of the magazine and almost all of the content. Our organisation’s names were used to help the magazine ‘take off’ and become part of the field. Simon and I did all we could to promote the magazine. 

Claire commissioned me to write content for the magazine. In the first edition, I wrote an article on ‘the story behind the WIRED initiative’ (p. 7), as well as the first part of Natalie’s Story about her recovery from heroin addiction (p. 6). I also arranged for Dave Watkins to write an article, A day in the life…, which focused on his activities as a community support worker for WGCADA (p. 12). 

The second edition of DDN, which appeared two weeks later, contained the second part of Natalie’s Story (p. 8), along with an article I wrote on Internet treatment and support (p. 11) in which I argued ‘that there is an urgent need to be innovative in developing ways of tackling substance misuse.’

My first Background Briefing, Drugs in society, appeared in this second edition (p. 13). My Background Briefings, an educational piece related to addiction and recovery (and related matters) of just over 900 words, appeared in almost all editions of DDN until late 2008. I also wrote a number of other articles for the magazine during this time. You can find links to some of my Background Briefings here.

Claire and Ian, and their team, have done a remarkable job with DDN over the years. Today, it still remains a magazine of the highest quality. It helped realise my (and Simon’s) dream of seeing a field that is much better informed than it was all those years ago when I started Wired In. It helped me find a new audience for my writing, for which I will always be grateful. 

I remember fondly the four of us having a number of good times together, as well as Claire’s telephone calls warning me that I only had ‘two hours to deadline. Get your act together, your audience awaits!’ Claire had a real bubbly personality and was so much fun. And she was very, very good at her job. We are still in touch all these years later, despite living on the other side of the world.

3. Research, Stories and WGCADA Profile

Wired In’s research and stories programmes expanded in 2005, in part due to a commission from the Peterborough DAT and the Peterborough Nene Drug Interventions Programme (Nene DIP) to work on several projects. This commission turned out to be a very productive and enjoyable piece of work, and our team was grateful for the collaborative efforts of Inspector Mike Beale of Peterborough Police, along with his colleagues, and the DAT Co-ordinator Verina McEwen. We had some great feedback from our colleagues in Peterborough.

The first project involved creating a book of Personal Stories of people who were accessing the Nene DIP, a police-led initiative with heroin users who also had a history of acquisitive crime to fund their drug use. Clients were initially ‘stabilised’ on methadone or subutex (in a few cases), and given access to a range of services in the community which helped provide lifestyle support.

Aimee Hopkins, a former Swansea Psychology undergraduate, interviewed 19 clients of the Nene DIP and used this material to create individual Personal Stories. The semi-structured interviews covered participants’ lives prior to their use of heroin, their early experiences of the drug, consequences of drug use, attempts to stop using, previous treatment episodes, and time spent with the Nene DIP. The Personal Stories were published in the form of a booklet.

Keith Morgan from WGCADA—who was now a Wired In team member—helped Aimee create a short CD on which she described the main findings of the project, using the voices of some of her interviewees. The booklet and CD were distributed to participants, new clients, and staff of the Nene DIP, as well as staff from other sections of the community that were working with the Nene DIP.

Aimee also conducted a piece of qualitative research using Grounded Theory to identify various themes arising from her interviews. Her report was distributed by the Nene DIP. I also used the interviews to help me write two articles on heroin use that I later wrote for this website—Journeys, Part 1: Descent Into Heroin Addiction and Journeys, Part 2: Living With Heroin Addiction.

We were also commissioned to interview seven mothers and girlfriends of people with substance use problems who were accessing support from the Nene DIP. Sarah Davies conducted a qualitative analysis of these interviews and wrote a report of the experiences, needs, and views of these family members. Her findings were very similar to Gemma Salter’s in her earlier research at WGCADA (cf. Chapter 10).

Sarah also conducted qualitative research investigating the experiences, needs and views of 18 young people who were accessing one of six services in Peterborough that worked with disadvantaged young people. The eighteen participants were a heterogeneous group in terms of which drugs (including alcohol) they had used, although none used heroin or crack cocaine.

All the young participants felt that the services offered them a range of different types of support, and reinforced the value of the holistic approach to service provision that each organisation was offering. They felt that they were benefiting in many different ways from their engagement. They also provided insight into how their experiences could be used to refine and further develop service provision. Sarah also interviewed 15 members of staff of the four services.

Overall, we were impressed with what we saw with the Nene DIP and the services they offered, although there were some shortcomings as you would expect. We outlined some of the issues raised by our study participants (young people and staff) and made suggestions about how to improve practice—these were well received by the people who had commissioned our research. The young people were thrilled to know that their suggestions were respected and could make a difference.

Wired In was commissioned by the National Public Health Service for Wales to carry out a qualitative research project on needle exchange services in South Wales. This research was carried out by another former Swansea Psychology undergraduate, Louise Watts, and was conducted in collaboration with The Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behaviour at Imperial College, London. The research involved interviews with 49 heroin users who accessed needle exchange services, with 41 of them using services offered by Inroads (Cardiff), Drug Aid (Merthyr Tydfil) and WGCADA (Bridgend). 

In general, study participants praised the needle exchange service offered by each of these centres. However, Louise’s research did reveal a number of problems and the final report from Imperial College outlined clear recommendations to improve the system. The most prominent problem was the negative attitude and prejudice of staff at chemists or pharmacies where the interviewees picked up their needles and syringes. These negative experiences could have a serious impact on an already vulnerable individual. 

After seeing the evaluation and hearing about our other work with BAC O’Conner, Chief Executive Norman Preddy asked if I would do a profile of WGCADA which looked at all aspects of their work coming out of their offices in Swansea, Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend. This project, which also involved Sarah Davies and Lucie James, was a large undertaking and took a number of months to complete. We eventually wrote a 181-page profile entitled Breaking Boundaries.

4. University Students

One of my great joys (and benefits) from those early years of Wired In development—and working in a university department—was my interaction with talented and enthusiastic Psychology undergraduate and Masters students in Swansea. Sarah, Aimee and Louise all worked with Wired In after completing their undergraduate degree, while Gemma Salter and Lucie James worked with Wired In both during and after their undergraduate studies.

Four undergraduate students (Emma Murphy, Richard Francis, Philippa Hoare and Carly McDaid) and three Masters students (Laura Davies, Chris James and Hannah Harry) conducted research in the community. A number of undergraduate students and one Masters student (Sophie Capo-Bianco) conducted questionnaire research that involved other students on the campus.

Overall, we conducted a range of projects on recovery, addiction, treatment (including harm reduction approaches), drug overdose, prejudice, family issues, drug laws, alcohol consumption and risky behaviours,  prescription psychoactive drugs, the need for a drug information service for professional footballers, and more.

Becky Hancock, who had worked with me on the DATF National Evaluation in 2000-2, joined the Clinical Masters in our department in 2005 and conducted an excellent piece of qualitative research with people who were accessing treatment services at WGCADA entitled Alcoholism – there and back: A qualitative analysis of interviews with clients engaging with a 12 Step based treatment programme. 

> 15. Wired In Ups and Downs, Part 2 

> ‘My Journey’ chapter links (and biography)