Breaking Bad in Barnstaple - The use of legal highs in North Devon: A proposed mixed methods study

First published: 30 March 2019 | Last updated: 09 October 2020

Miss Carolyn Hurley

Therapeutic Community Practitioner

Carolyn Hurley is a therapeutic community practitioner and admissions manager at Freedom Communities Therapeutic Community in North Devon which treats addiction and related life-controlling issues. After qualifying as a registered general nurse in 1982, Carolyn held clinical posts specialising in high dependency and intensive care nursing in the NHS, the private sector and overseas. She became an nursing officer with the Queen Alexander’s Royal Army Nursing Corps in 1988 and served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. While a senior lecturer at the University of West of England, she completed a master’s degree, and has a number of publications in peer reviewed journals to her name together with several conference presentations. Carolyn is currently a second year doctoral student with the Department for Health at the University of Bath and is investigating the extent of ‘legal high’ use in North Devon.

Work carried out: North Devon

Funding: To date a small grant for course fees from the Yorkshire Ladies Council of Education, Ground Floor Office, Forest Hill, 11 Park Crescent, Leeds, LS8 1DH.

A bid has been submitted to RISE Recovery in Devon for course fees and funding for the project.

An application has also been submitted to the Society for the Study of Addiction for course fees.

Clinical trial reg: N/A

Role: The researcher (named above) is a 2nd year postgraduate student on the Professional Doctorate in Health degree at the Department for Health, University of Bath, Claverton Down,  Bath, BA2 7AY, United Kingdom. The current supervisor is Dr Fiona Fox [Qualitative Researcher 01225 38 3261].

Abstract: Aim:

The aim of the research is to measure and conceptualise legal high use in North Devon. It is anticipated that the results will inform local policy and treatment initiatives.


A mixed method approach will be used to answer the research questions from a variety of perspectives. These include an online survey and in-depth, semi-structured interviews with a subset of self-selected participants from the online survey.


The survey will obtain data from participants located in North Devon. The Board Market Rent Area [BMRA] of North Devon has been chosen as a convenient administrative county boundary as its council collects population data linked to health, housing, employment and education.


Eligibility criteria is 18 years of age or older and resident in the administration area of North Devon BRMSA [Broad Market Rent Area]. Assuming a 5% margin of error and a confidence level of 95%, and a population estimate of 78,020, then the quantitative study sample must be between 370 and 383. For the qualitative part of the study the sample size will be guided by the concept of saturation.


A structured online survey assessing demographic status, drug consumption motives, and experiences. In depth interviews collecting participants’ perspectives of the social and psychological phenomena of the lived experience of using legal highs.


Descriptive statistics such as frequencies and cross-tabulations will be conducted to describe the sample. A multiple sorting task (MST) will be used to specifically manage multifarious phenomena emerging from the interviews and allow categorisation and re-categorisation of experiences. Preliminary patterns in the data will be analysed to elicit prevailing themes consistent with the research questions.


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Miss Carolyn Hurley