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Cork man who overcame years of heroin addiction graduating with criminology Masters

James Leonard shared his story of addiction on The Tommy Tiernan Show last month.

James Leonard speaking on The Tommy Tiernan Show
James Leonard speaking on The Tommy Tiernan Show
Image: Screengrab via YouTube/RTÉ Player

A MAN WHO discussed his story of overcoming addiction on RTÉ’s Tommy Tiernan Show last month is one of over 1,100 students graduating at University College Cork this week. 

James Leonard will today receive his first class honours Masters degree in Criminology at a conferring ceremony at the university. 

Sharing his story with Tommy Tiernan last month, Leonard said that he was first introduced to heroin when he was in prison at the age of 21. 

“I was afraid of it because my idea of heroin use was injecting, street use, all that,” he said. 

However, Leonard said he came across a man in prison who was smoking the drug off tinfoil. 

“[I thought] this is grand, there’s no needles and that, and this is the safe way to do it,” he said. 

“I thought I could do it, and I did. For the first few years, I just smoked it,” he added. 

Throughout his heroin use, Leonard explained that his mood shifted. 

“The craic left me, there was no more craic, there was no more bonding, very isolating,” he said. 

Source: RTÉ - IRELAND’S NATIONAL PUBLIC SERVICE MEDIA/YouTube

Leonard told Tiernan that during this period he was commit theft to gather money for his drug use. 

“What I was doing didn’t sit with me and I tried recovery a few times, went to treatment centres. But I could never imagine myself without using substances, [it was] very easy to go back to what was familiar to me, even though it was so rough,” he said. 

Leonard said that he looked “shocking” during this period of his life. He was just 9 or 10 stone, he said, and had a “very gaunt” appearance with “yellow-ish” skin. 

Recovery

By late 2012, Leonard was using heroin intravenously on a regular basis. He was also frequently overdosing at this stage. 

After one particular overdosing incident, he made the decision to contact Merchants Quay Ireland, which provides homeless outreach and drug rehabilitation services. 

From there, he underwent a detox programme. 

“I suppose I came out of [the programme] with a new frame of mind. What I longed for was the normal life, the job, the education, the stable relationship, stable accommodation, a car,” Leonard said. 

“They helped me believe these were attainable goals for me,” he said. 

From there, Leonard did a computer course in the College of Commerce in Cork. After that, he completely an undergraduate degree in Youth & Community Work at UCC. 

Today, James Leonard will receive his first class honours Masters degree in Criminology at UCC. 

Speaking of ahead of today’s conferring, Leonard said: “During my undergraduate in Youth & Community Cork, I completed two placements at Probation Service funded projects. I also researched drug policy for my undergrad dissertation. 

“The Criminology masters was the natural choice for me to get a more in depth understanding of theories and perspectives related to deviance, organised crime, recovery, desistance, youth justice, etc.” 

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