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Love & hate in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver: features of an unusual drug scene

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According to conventional research and political conceptions, illicit drug scenes are often characterised by cultures of crime, violence and deceit and customarily met by repressive law enforcement. However, a growing body of research demonstrates the very diverse nature of drug subcultures. This paper aims to explore this diversity and thereby investigates the psychosocial and socio-spatial features people selling and/or using drugs in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver (DTES) attribute to the local drug scene.


Qualitative in-depth interviews were conducted with 23 persons with drug selling and/or using experiences in the DTES. Interviews were analysed and interpreted according to grounded theory.


Participants represent the social fabric of the DTES drug scene as comprising complexly interwoven facets and structures including frequent, brutal violence on the one hand and sincere, heart-rending compassion, care and even love on the other.


Police and social and health services can cooperate constructively with the overriding aim of individual and social harm reduction. Thereby, the existing social network and prosocial orientations of a drug scene can be used in effective approaches such as participatory policy strategies and peer-driven interventions.

Keywords: Care; Compassion; Downtown Eastside Vancouver; Drug scene; Social marginalisation; Violence

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Social Work, Protestant University Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany

Publication date: September 8, 2021

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