Drugs and nuisance: etnographic research among drug users

Research Period

1 September 2002 - 31 October 2003


Federal Science Policy


Anne-Cathérine LACROIX (ANSO, UCL)

Key Words

Ethnography, drugs, drug related nuisance


The study 'Drugs and Nuisance : Ethnographic study amongst drug users' forms party of a broader study, called 'Drugs and Nuisance: study of the phenomenon, the control and maintenance and the effects of drug related nuisance from different perspectives'.

Research Context

Drug-related nuisance is a complex phenomenon that harms the quality of life in neighbourhoods and districts. What is required is the development of an integrated, decentralised (local) approach to drug nuisance involving all sectors. For these reasons, drug nuisance is one of the priorities contained in the Federal Detention and Security Plan of the Minister of Justice (Federal Security and Detention Plan of the Minister of Justice (in Dutch), 31 May 2000) and one of the stated points of action in the Policy note of the Federal government on the drug problems (FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, Policy note of the Federal government on the drug problems, (in Dutch), 19 January 2001). The National Security Plan and local security plans also address the phenomenon of drugs nuisance.

Doelstellingen van het onderzoek

This research sets out to chart the phenomenon of drug-related nuisance and analyse the effects and control thereof from assorted viewpoints. The environmental effects of this phenomenon, the perspective of drug users themselves, and the way in which nuisance policy is shaped at the local, regional and federal levels, provide research components.
The study aims to achieve the following specific research aims:

  • clarification of the term "drug(related) nuisance";
  • implementing the term "drug(related) nuisance";
  • estimating the nature and scope of the phenomenon;
  • obtaining of an insight into the perception of drug users;
  • estimating attitudes and opinions of the population;
  • estimating the costs for maintaining order (administrative and judicial interventions);
  • estimating the social costs;
  • inventarisation and process evaluation of the local approach of the drug (-related) nuisance phenomenon;
  • supporting the policy.

Research Description

In order to obtain an insight into (the complexity and effects of) the nuisance phenomenon, the research methodology used is multi-faceted. Above all, a multidisciplinary research team combines quantitative and qualitative research methods, thereby making a telling contribution to the scientific, social and political debate regarding the phenomenon in need of control. Each research team handles one particular research area, i.e. perspectives among the population, drug users or key figures (including local policy-makers, public order figures and care providers).

The population survey enables a picture to be formed of the nature, extent and impact of drug-related nuisance as experienced by the population. More specifically, our intention is to verify the extent to which the presence of a drugs scene (frequent drug dealing and/or use on the street) in a particular district brings with it a typical type of attendant nuisance (or not).

The survey of drug users is designed to develop an insight into the perception drug users have of drug-related nuisance. A two-pronged methodology will be used for this. The methodology used is made up of open-focus ethnography in the cities of Antwerp and Charleroi using observations from, and informal discussions between, participants (open interviews, where possible) with the help of snowball sampling involving 'gatekeepers', drug users and (other) residents in certain parts of Antwerp and Charleroi.

The aim is not to produce 'representativity' and conclusions on the prevalence of the extent of the 'drug-related' nuisance phenomenon, but rather on the nature of the phenomenon based on insights developed into the self-understanding of drug users. In particular, it is our intention to develop an insight into the perception of drug users, the way in which drug-dealing develops internally to become a significant occurrence within a field of relations of force. To that end, we plan to develop an insight into the lifestyles of users and links with the present-day legal context, address the perceptions of users as regards the attitudes to which they are subjected, and record the experiences of users in terms of what the population thinks of them.

The survey of key figures will enable clarification of the concept of drug nuisance, a qualitative assessment to be made of the extent and nature of drug nuisance, a further assessment to be conducted of drug nuisance's social costs, and a process evaluation to be carried out into present-day drug nuisance policies locally and regionally.

The assorted research aims are being implemented in six locations: three major cities (Antwerp, Brussels, Charleroi), one border region (the Belgian side of the Meuse-Rhine region: Maasmechelen, Houthalen, Liege, Limburg/Hasselt), and two other regions (the district of Mons, focussing on the town of Mons itself; and the district of Bruges, focusing on the town of Ostend).

As far as the methodology and results of the 'drugs and nuisance' study are concerned, points of connection will be sought in research projects conducted previously, primarily abroad (See e.g., inter alia, RENN, H. en LANGE, K., Urban districts and drug scenes: a comparative study on nuisance by 'open' drug scenes in major European cities, Luxemburg, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 1996, 73 p.; SNIPPE, J., OLDERSMA, F., BIELEMAN, B., Monitoring of Drug Nuisance in the Netherlands 1996-2000, (in Dutch), Netherlands, Intraval, 2000), in terms of the 'drug nuisance' phenomenon.

The final report will summarise the findings from the assorted perspectives and viewpoints and compare these with one another. 

Valorisation: publications and lectures

The full empirical results will be published by the F.O.D. Wetenschapsbeleid:

  • DECORTE, T., DE RUYVER, B., PONSAERS, P., BODEIN, M., LACROIX, A.C., LAUWERS, S. en TUTELEERS, P. (2004), Drugs en overlast. Drogues et nuisances. Gent: Academia Press.

Andere relevante publicaties en lezingen:

  • DECORTE, T. (2001). Omtrent de interpretatie van het begrip drugsoverlast in beleidsteksten (pp. 217-233). In CASSELMAN, J. et al. (eds.), Veiligheid, een illusie? Theorie, onderzoek en praktijk. Brussel: Politeia.
  • DECORTE, T. (2004). Drugs en overlast: bevraging van de druggebruikers. Presentation at the Studiedag 'Drugs en overlast', Gent, 23 juni 2004.