Substance Use Research Group (SURG)

Substance Use Research Group (SURG)

Located within the Centre for Criminology at the University of South Wales, the Substance Use Research Group (SURG) was formed in 2019 to conduct high-quality research into the use of drugs and alcohol. 

Led by Professor Katy Holloway, the group is made of academic researchers (including Emeritus Professor Trevor BennettProfessor Ali WardakProfessor Kate Williams, Dr Sophie ChambersDr Marian Buhociu and Sharmila Kumar) with expertise in current and emerging issues in substance use, such as: harm reduction interventions, drug production and supply, criminal justice responses, substance use among university students, ‘treatment-resistant’ heroin users, and the implementation of substance misuse policy.

Collaborative relationships

SURG members enjoy strong collaborative relationships with a wide range of staff working in the substance misuse field in Wales. This includes academic colleagues in other institutions as well as professional colleagues working in Welsh Government, Public Health Wales and third sector organisations. SURG members provide research support and advice to the DIGDDAS consortium (Dyfodol, Iris, Gwent, Dyfed - Drug and Alcohol Service) and sit on Welsh Government’s National Implementation Board for Drug Poisoning Prevention. They are working alongside Kaleidoscope in supervising a KESS-funded PhD student (Sharmila Kumar) and collaborating with Barod in developing and evaluating a bespoke substance misuse information, advice and support service for university students.

In March 2021 SURG expanded by appointing two Visiting Professors: Dr Rhian Hills and Dr Jan Melichar. Rhian completed her PhD at USW and is now Senior Drug Policy Manager at the Welsh Government, while Jan is a Consultant Psychiatrist at the Community Addictions Unit in Cardiff.


The group has a lengthy track record of securing internal and external funding for substance misuse research from the Home Office, Ministry of Justice, Welsh Government, South Wales Police Crime and Commissioner, and from third sector treatment providers. Their research has generated a range of high quality publications including books, journal articles and official reports that have helped develop the evidence base on a range of substance use issues.

Current research

SURG members are currently engaged in a range of externally funded projects.  These include studies investigating:

  • evaluation of the Gwent heroin and crack action area
  • lessons from Covid-19 review for substance misuse service provision
  • evaluation of Barod Digital Intervention (Webchat) Service
  • how to improve the outcomes of treatment resistant heroin users
  • the (predicted and actual) impact of minimum pricing for alcohol on drinkers and their families in Wales
  • the misuse of over-the-counter and prescription-only medication (including opioid substitution treatment)
  • substance misuse and related behaviours among university students as part of the Higher Education Alcohol and Drugs (HEADS) programme

In this 20-minute podcast Professor Katy Holloway talks to Dr Louise Bright about her research into substance use focusing on the goal of harm reduction. 
Guest Elwyn Thomas, a key worker for Gwent Drug and Alcohol Service, raises the issue of stigma associated with substance use, and reveals how Katy’s research has brought about important changes in harm reduction advice that have helped to save lives.


Prof Katy HOllowayDuring the course of her academic career, Professor Katy Holloway's research has focused on illegal drugs. She has conducted studies that have investigated a wide range of drug-related issues including: drug use among arrestees, the causal connection between drug use and crime among prisoners, the effectiveness of drug treatment, the use of Take-Home Naloxone among opiate users, the implementation of the Welsh Substance Misuse Strategy, and the characteristics of opiate overdose events. 

Katy is currently leading a study of drug and alcohol use among university students in Wales and a study of the misuse and diversion of opiate substitution medication. The philosophy of harm reduction underpins Katy’s research and she has recently been co-opted onto a sub-group of the Advisory Panel on Substance Misuse to investigate the potential benefits of introducing safer injecting facilities in Wales.

Trevor Hugh Bennett is currently an Emeritus Professor at the Centre for Criminology, University of South Wales. Trevor's research covers quantitative and qualitative social research and social policy. His current project, in collaboration with Professor Katy Holloway, is the Higher Education Alcohol and Drugs Survey (HEADS) of university students in Wales.

Dr Ali Wardak_14282.jpgProfessor Ali Wardak is Professor of Criminology and Vice President of the South Asian Society of Criminology and Victimology. His main teaching and research interests focus on comparative criminology, the rule of law, and the relationships between state and non-state justice systems. From September 2006 to October 2008 he worked for the United Nations Development Programme in Kabul, and co-authored the 2007 Afghanistan Human Development Report. He is graduate in law and jurisprudence from Kabul University and obtained his PhD degree from the Faculty of Law, University of Edinburgh.

Dr Marian Buhociu, Criminology

Dr Marian Buhociu is Lecturer in Criminology. His research interests include contemporary issues in drug misuse; new psychoactive substances and drug trafficking organisations.

Sharmila Mahesh Kumar, PhD Criminology

Former substance misuse worker Sharmila Kumar is a 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).

Prof Kate Williams

Professor Kate Williams is Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of South Wales. She is also Director of the Welsh Centre for Crime and Social Justice, a HEFCW funded initiative which brings together researchers across eight Welsh universities and builds links with both policy and practice. 

Prof Kate Williams worked with Prof Katy Holloway on a Welsh Government substance-use related project which evaluated a substance misuse outcome monitoring tool for children and young people. Last year, Welsh Government employed Kate and Katy again in a consultancy role to follow up the evaluation.  

Sophie Chambers

Dr Sophie Chambers has conducted research on police governance in England and Wales, including the election of Police and Crime Commissioners, how community safety is performed in Wales (given policing is not devolved), and policing policy divergence and convergence. She is also interested in the politicisation of policing and the misuse of police powers.

Sophie holds a PhD from Cardiff University, where she also completed her Masters and Undergraduate study. She has been a Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of South Wales since 2016.

Shannon Murray, Research Assistant SURG

Shannon Murray is a Research Assistant with SURG. She is also a PhD student at Cardiff University where her research focuses on exploring young gay and bisexual men’s experiences of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in Wales. Shannon is  a postgraduate tutor at Cardiff University and has taught on modules such as Introduction to Social Science Research Methods (SSRM) and Offending and Victimisation. 

Visiting Professors

Professor Rhian Hills is Senior Drug Policy Manager for Welsh Government.

Jan Melichar

Professor Jan K Melichar, BSc MB BS MD FRCPsych has a diverse portfolio of professional interests: he is an NHS Consultant Psychiatrist in Substance Misuse, a Visiting Senior Lecturer in Psychopharmacology at the University of Bath and a Visiting Professor at the University of South Wales. Alongside this, he continues to provide consultancy work to industry and commissioners. 

He has been Medical Director of a third sector NHS provider, Consultant Lead for a Primary Care Opioid Analgesic Dependency Pilot Service, Research Director for a Clinical Research Organisation and Medical Director and Founder of a medical device start-up. He has previously been Lead Consultant in a regional NHS Psychopharmacology Unit, working with patients with difficult-to-treat anxiety and depression. In 2015, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (FRCPsych) – this is awarded as a mark of distinction and recognition of contributions to psychiatry - and he was re-elected to the National Executive, Addictions Faculty, of the College in 2018.

Since 2017, Jan has been NHS Consultant lead for opiate prescribing services and the inpatient substance misuse liaison services in Cardiff. In 2020, as part of Covid-19 developments, he put a successful bid to Welsh Government to fund nationwide use of Buvidal – a long-acting monthly opioid replacement injection. He is helping to roll it out to a wide range of patients across Wales presently – numbers in treatment were <40 in 2019/20, ~700 for 2020/21 and he has helped gain further funding for up to 2000 next year. He has been involved in the development of similar services in Scotland and England. His research interests currently include lab-based research to understand what causes the significant benefit of Buvidal and the development of clinically fit-for-purpose, properly researched detoxification and trauma pathways, as well as wider work on further benefits in other patient groups.

Visiting Fellows

Caroline Phipps
Visiting Fellow at USW

Martin Blakeborough
Visiting Fellow at USW

Jason Kew
Visiting Fellow at USW

SURG Partners

Dr Tom May
Research Fellow at University College London

Andrew Misell
Alcohol Change UK’s Director for Wales

Dr Wulf Livingston
Reader in Social Science Glyndwr University

SURG Partners

Dr James Morgan
London Metropolitan University

Andy Perkins
Director Figure 8 Consultancy Services

Rob Barker
Campaigns and Communications Lead - Barod

Sian Chicken
Head Of Operations (Gwent) Kaleidoscope

Elwyn Thomas
Clinical Keyworker - GDAS