Place and experiences of risk among young drug users in downtown Vancouver

Illicit drug use is associated with severe harms and immense social suffering among youth. Previous ethnographic work has shown how social-structural and cultural processes present within specific urban locales intersect to push young people who engage in drug use towards ‘risk’, until it becomes difficult or impossible for them to avoid transitioning into increasingly ‘risky’ behaviours. However, there have been relatively few in-depth investigations of drug-using contexts or ‘scenes’ that focus exclusively on the meanings, understandings and everyday lived experiences of young drug users themselves. Danya Fast’s research explores young people’s understandings of the social-structural and physical landscapes of the downtown Vancouver drug scene, and how various locales (e.g. neighbourhoods, alleyways, service locations, residences), shape experiences of ‘safety’ and ‘risk’ among drug-using youth. Her approach emphasizes the influence of place on health, where place is understood to encompass both physical and social spaces. An important goal of this research will be the identification of elements in the physical and social environment that shape risk and structural interventions that alter context and, by consequence, facilitate safer spaces for work, rest and recreation for youth. Ms. Fast’s project will result in a more comprehensive and culturally sensitive account of young drug users’ everyday experiences in the context of the downtown Vancouver drug scene, and will also be used to inform ongoing epidemiological research with drug-using youth. Moreover, Ms. Fast’s project will contribute to the development of an ongoing ethno-epidemiological research program that has been identified as an important emergent area within Human Immunodeficiency Virus research, due to its unique ability to inform the development of interventions designed to reduce drug-related harms.