The Qualitative and Ethno-epidemiological (“Ethno-epi”) Research Program at the BC Centre on Substance Use evaluates the impact of social, structural, and environmental factors on drug-related harm, HIV risk behaviour, HIV treatment outcomes, and access to care among people who use drugs (PWUD). Researchers employ and integrate multiple data collection techniques including ethnographic observational fieldwork, in-depth interviews, and geospatial mapping techniques, and combine these data with quantitative laboratory and survey data.

Recent qualitative and ethno-epi research topics have included:

  • Investigation of how changes to the Provincial Methadone Program impacted local PWUD receiving methadone;
  • Examination of HIV treatment interruptions and plasma viral load rebound among people who inject drugs;
  • Exploration of PWUD’s experiences with methadone initiation;
  • The impact of area restrictions (“red zones”) on risk, harm, and health among PWUD;
  • How people who inject drugs’ involvement in drug dealing shapes their experiences of drug market-related harm and risk of violence;
  • Evolving patterns of crystal methamphetamine use among street-involved youth;
  • Examination of the operation and impact of “unsanctioned” drug consumption facilities operated by a local drug user organization;
  • Investigation of the perspectives of PWUD regarding public health information campaigns (overdose awareness, changes to the BC methadone program);
  • Mapping understandings of “place” among street-involved youth in an urban drug scene; and
  • How the perspectives of structurally vulnerable PWUD can help inform harm reduction interventions, patient-centred care, hospital outcomes, and drug-related risks and harms.


The Qualitative and Ethno-epi Research Program has the following objectives:

  • To examine the influence of evolving social and physical features of “drug scenes” on HIV risk behaviours and HIV incidence among PWUD;
  • To assess the influence of evolving structural and physical factors on critical initiation and transitional events among PWUD, and to model their impact on HIV risk;
  • To assess the influence of evolving structural and physical factors on initiation and adherence to antiretroviral therapy and suppression of HIV-1 RNA among HIV-positive PWUD;
  • To create a platform for the ongoing ethnospatial evaluation of future interventions targeting PWUD; and
  • To develop, refine, and document innovative approaches to ethnospatial epidemiology and pilot these in Vancouver and other North American settings.


  • Pivot Legal Society
  • Portland Hotel Society (PHS)
  • Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU)
  • Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS)


  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
  • Vancouver Foundation (VF)


To learn more about the Qualitative and Ethno-Epi Research Program, please contact us:
Samara Mayer, Research Coordinator
Email: [email protected]

BC Centre on Substance Use

400-1045 Howe St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2A9

E: [email protected] | T: (778) 945-7616 | F: (604) 428-5183

24/7 Addiction Clinician Support Line: (778) 945-7619

Online Addiction Medicine Diploma: [email protected].

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