Ethnographic research on Manhattan's Lower East Side combined direct observation and qualitative interviews to describe the wide variety of local retail drug markets; the social contexts in which they evolved; and how interactions between the various markets affected drug availability, drug distribution styles, drug use patterns, and types of crime and violence associated with particular types of drug markets.
The research was conducted over a 5-year ethnographic investigation of heroin markets in New York City. At the end of the third year of research, project staff had interviewed and conducted extensive field observations of 227 heroin users and 146 heroin distributors. Of the total sample of 373 research subjects, 151 were white, 138 were Latino, 75 were black, 2 were Asian, and 7 were of unknown ethnicity. In addition to background information on age, gender, ethnicity, and State or country of origin, researchers probed such areas as reasons for distributing drugs, drug distributor ambitions and outlooks, methods and beliefs about avoiding arrest or harm, and records of individual drug businesses. Based on the multi-faceted sample, the research offered a moving picture of how trends in drug use and distribution emerged, matured, and changed over time. A typology was developed that compared and contrasted drug distributors who participated in markets that were differentiated according to the social and technical organization of drug distribution. The research also documented the differential and changing socio-demographic composition of consumer groups associated with the variety of illegal drug markets and described transformations over time in the behaviors, beliefs, and norms of each drug user category. Findings revealed changes in the manner in which drugs were sold and consumed did not result from a "natural" progression of drug distribution styles or from a "developmental cycle" of drug use but rather depended on a complex array factors, with each neighborhood having a unique configuration. The authors conclude changes in the character of drug markets as well as shifts in the methods of drug distributors and consumer preferences may have more to do with community-level factors than with larger social forces. 60 references, 9 notes, and 1 table
RO1 DA 10105-02
Date Published: January 1, 2000