This article explores the values and challenges of an archaeological approach to illicit drug use, based on the study of discarded drug paraphernalia. It builds upon recent archaeological studies of homeless people, refugees and other marginalised communities that have used participative methods to challenge societal stigma and erasure. Following a critique of previous archaeological studies of drug use, the core of the article is a detailed analysis of an assemblage of drug paraphernalia in Oxford, UK. In interpreting this assemblage and its material and emotional contexts we draw on our respective contemporary archaeological and drug user activist experience and expertise. By providing a critical overview of previous studies and a detailed case study, this article aims to provide a practical and conceptual foundation for future archaeological studies of illicit drug use.