The impact of a police drug crackdown on drug injectors' ability to practice harm reduction: a qualitative study

Soc Sci Med. 2005 Aug;61(3):673-84. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.12.030. Epub 2005 Feb 17.


This paper employs qualitative methods to explore the ramifications of a police drug crackdown on drug injectors' ability to practice harm reduction. Between August and December 2000, we conducted open-ended interviews with 40 illicit-drug-injecting residents of a New York City police precinct undergoing a crackdown. Interview topics included participants' experiences with police in the precinct and their drug use practices. Grounded theory methods were used to analyze resulting transcripts. Because place emerged as a salient analytic category, we also drew on elements of social geography to interpret results. The analysis suggests that particular crackdown tactics, notably frequent police searches of participants' bodies and elevated surveillance of the precinct's public spaces, reconfigured participants' experiences of their bodies and the public spaces comprising the precinct in ways that adversely affected their capacity to engage in harm reduction. Frequent police searches, for example, discouraged participants from carrying the injection equipment they needed to ensure that they could inject with a sterile syringe. Constant monitoring of local public spaces made it difficult for homeless women and men to inject safely. Simultaneously, participants expressed support for police actions that reduced public drug activity. Given these findings, we recommend the implementation of strategies, designed by partnerships of community groups and governmental and non-governmental organizations, which reduce public drug activity without imperiling injectors' health. Possible strategies include improving access to treatment and establishing safe injection spaces.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Drug and Narcotic Control / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Drug and Narcotic Control / methods*
  • Female
  • Geography
  • Harm Reduction*
  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons
  • Law Enforcement*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York City
  • Police*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / prevention & control
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / psychology*