The multiple truths about crystal meth among young people entrenched in an urban drug scene: a longitudinal ethnographic investigation

Soc Sci Med. 2014 Jun;110:41-8. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.03.029. Epub 2014 Mar 28.

Abstract

Transitions into more harmful forms of illicit drug use among youth have been identified as important foci for research and intervention. In settings around the world, the transition to crystal methamphetamine (meth) use among youth is considered a particularly dangerous and growing problem. Epidemiological evidence suggests that, particularly among young, street-involved populations, meth use is associated with numerous sex- and drug-related "risks behaviors" and negative health outcomes. Relatively few studies, however, have documented how youth themselves understand, experience and script meth use over time. From 2008 to 2012, we conducted over 100 in-depth interviews with 75 street-entrenched youth in Vancouver, Canada, as well as ongoing ethnographic fieldwork, in order to examine youth's understandings and experiences of meth use in the context of an urban drug scene. Our findings revealed positive understandings and experiences of meth in relation to other forms of drug addiction and unaddressed mental health issues. Youth were simultaneously aware of the numerous health-related harms and social costs associated with heavy meth use. Over time, positive understandings of meth may become entirely contradictory to a lived reality in which escalating meth use is a factor in further marginalizing youth, although this may not lead to cessation of use. Recognition of these multiple truths about meth, and the social structural contexts that shape the scripting of meth use among youth in particular settings, may help us to move beyond moralizing debates about how to best educate youth on the "risks" associated with meth, and towards interventions that are congruent with youth's lived experiences and needs across the lifecourse.

Keywords: Canada; Crystal methamphetamine; Drug scene; Ethnography; Qualitative research; Youth.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amphetamine-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Canada
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Homeless Youth / psychology*
  • Homeless Youth / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Methamphetamine / administration & dosage*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk-Taking
  • Urban Population* / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult

Substances

  • Methamphetamine