Reinterpreting Ethnic Patterns among White and African American Men Who Inject Heroin: A Social Science of Medicine Approach

Cornell University, Итак, New York, United States
PLoS Medicine (Impact Factor: 14.43). 11/2006; 3(10):e452. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030452
Source: PubMed


Street-based heroin injectors represent an especially vulnerable population group subject to negative health outcomes and social stigma. Effective clinical treatment and public health intervention for this population requires an understanding of their cultural environment and experiences. Social science theory and methods offer tools to understand the reasons for economic and ethnic disparities that cause individual suffering and stress at the institutional level.
We used a cross-methodological approach that incorporated quantitative, clinical, and ethnographic data collected by two contemporaneous long-term San Francisco studies, one epidemiological and one ethnographic, to explore the impact of ethnicity on street-based heroin-injecting men 45 years of age or older who were self-identified as either African American or white. We triangulated our ethnographic findings by statistically examining 14 relevant epidemiological variables stratified by median age and ethnicity. We observed significant differences in social practices between self-identified African Americans and whites in our ethnographic social network sample with respect to patterns of (1) drug consumption; (2) income generation; (3) social and institutional relationships; and (4) personal health and hygiene. African Americans and whites tended to experience different structural relationships to their shared condition of addiction and poverty. Specifically, this generation of San Francisco injectors grew up as the children of poor rural to urban immigrants in an era (the late 1960s through 1970s) when industrial jobs disappeared and heroin became fashionable. This was also when violent segregated inner city youth gangs proliferated and the federal government initiated its "War on Drugs." African Americans had earlier and more negative contact with law enforcement but maintained long-term ties with their extended families. Most of the whites were expelled from their families when they began engaging in drug-related crime. These historical-structural conditions generated distinct presentations of self. Whites styled themselves as outcasts, defeated by addiction. They professed to be injecting heroin to stave off "dopesickness" rather than to seek pleasure. African Americans, in contrast, cast their physical addiction as an oppositional pursuit of autonomy and pleasure. They considered themselves to be professional outlaws and rejected any appearance of abjection. Many, but not all, of these ethnographic findings were corroborated by our epidemiological data, highlighting the variability of behaviors within ethnic categories.
Bringing quantitative and qualitative methodologies and perspectives into a collaborative dialog among cross-disciplinary researchers highlights the fact that clinical practice must go beyond simple racial or cultural categories. A clinical social science approach provides insights into how sociocultural processes are mediated by historically rooted and institutionally enforced power relations. Recognizing the logical underpinnings of ethnically specific behavioral patterns of street-based injectors is the foundation for cultural competence and for successful clinical relationships. It reduces the risk of suboptimal medical care for an exceptionally vulnerable and challenging patient population. Social science approaches can also help explain larger-scale patterns of health disparities; inform new approaches to structural and institutional-level public health initiatives; and enable clinicians to take more leadership in changing public policies that have negative health consequences.

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    • "African Americans may have also had increased exposure to harm reduction messages over a longer period than whites. The racial disparity in abscess prevalence observed here is consistent with the prior study suggesting that whites practice riskier injection behaviors compared with their African American peers (Bourgois et al., 2006; Williams et al., 2013). Contrary to other studies, speedballing was not correlated with a current abscess or abscess history. "
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    ABSTRACT: Abscesses and chronic wounds are common among injection drug users (IDUs) though chronic wounds have been understudied. We assessed the risk factors associated with both acute and chronic wounds within a community-based population of IDUs frequenting the Baltimore City Needle Exchange Program (BNEP). We performed a cross-sectional study of BNEP clients aged 18 years or more who completed an in-person survey regarding active or prior wounds including abscesses (duration <8 weeks) and chronic wounds (duration ≥8 weeks), injection practices, and skin care. Factors associated with wounds were analyzed using univariate and multivariate logistic regressions. Of the 152 participants, 63.2% were men, 49.3% were white, 44.7% were African American, 34.9% had any type of current wound, 17.8% had an active abscess, and 19.7% had a current chronic wound. Abscesses were more common in women (odds ratio [OR], 2.56; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.10-5.97) and those reporting skin-popping (OR, 5.38; 95% CI, 1.85-15.67). In a multivariate model, risk factors for an abscess included injecting with a family member/partner (adjusted OR [AOR], 4.06; 95% CI, 0.99-16.58). In a multivariable analysis of current chronic wounds, cleaning skin with alcohol before injection was protective (AOR, 0.061; 95% CI, 0.0064-0.58). Abscesses and chronic wounds were prevalent among a sample of IDUs in Baltimore. Abscesses were associated with injection practices, and chronic wounds seemed linked to varying skin and tool cleaning practices. There is a pressing need for wound-related education and treatment efforts among IDUs who are at greatest risk for skin-related morbidity.
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    • "To reduce distortion of data due to social desirability responses, interviews were conducted in a conversational format as drug users were actively involved in their routine activities. This classical anthropological strategy of participants’ observation allowed a triangulation of responses to conversational prompts [19]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background This article reports qualitative findings from a sample of 31 purposively chosen injection drug users (IDUs) from Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria, British Columbia interviewed to examine the context of safe injection site in transforming their lives. Further, the purpose is to determine whether the first and only Supervised injection facility (SIF) in North America, InSite, needs to be expanded to other cities. Methods Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted in a classical anthropological strategy of conversational format as drug users were actively involved in their routine activities. Purposive sampling combined with snowball sampling techniques was employed to recruit the participants. Audio recorded interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed thematically using NVivo 9 software. Results Attending InSite has numerous positive effects on the lives of IDUs including: saving lives, reducing HIV and HCV risk behavior, decreasing injection in public, reducing public syringe disposal, reducing use of various medical resources and increasing access to nursing and other primary health services. Conclusions There is an urgent need to expand the current facility to cities where injection drug use is prevalent to reduce overdose deaths, reduce needle sharing, reduce hospital emergency care, and increase safety. In addition, InSite’s positive changes have contributed to a cultural transformation in drug use within the Downtown Eastside and neighboring communities.
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    • "Another African American man, who had just been treated for an abscess, explained that the abscess had been caused by missing a cocaine injection and not by purposefully injecting heroin into fatty tissue. He insisted defensively that this was the first abscess he had ever had in his injection career (Bourgois et al., 2006). Nonetheless, the fact that relatively large numbers of whites engaged in practices that violated ethnic patterns identified as relatively absolute by the ethnographic data demonstrates the importance of considering ethnic crossover behaviors at the larger population level. "
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    ABSTRACT: Research with injection drug users (IDUs) benefits from interdisciplinary theoretical and methodological innovation because drug use is illegal, socially sanctioned and often hidden. Despite the increasing visibility of interdisciplinary, mixed methods research projects with IDUs, qualitative components are often subordinated to quantitative approaches and page restrictions in top addiction journals limit detailed reports of complex data collection and analysis logistics, thus minimizing the fuller scientific potential of genuine mixed methods. We present the methodological logistics and conceptual approaches of four mixed-methods research projects that our interdisciplinary team conducted in San Francisco with IDUs over the past two decades. These projects include combinations of participant-observation ethnography, in-depth qualitative interviewing, epidemiological surveys, photo-documentation, and geographic mapping. We adapted Greene et al.'s framework for combining methods in a single research project through: data triangulation, methodological complementarity, methodological initiation, and methodological expansion. We argue that: (1) flexible and self-reflexive methodological procedures allowed us to seize strategic opportunities to document unexpected and sometimes contradictory findings as they emerged to generate new research questions, (2) iteratively mixing methods increased the scope, reliability, and generalizability of our data, and (3) interdisciplinary collaboration contributed to a scientific "value added" that allowed for more robust theoretical and practical findings about drug use and risk-taking.
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