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Qualitative research

Project manager epidemiology: Deborah Olszewski
Project manager for responses: Jennifer Hillebrand

Qualitative research methods complement quantitative (statistical) methods in capturing the interplay between the meanings and contexts of drug use. In particular, qualitative methods are sensitive to changes in patterns of drug consumption because of the proximity of the researchers to the study population. Qualitative researchers often work in the field, directly with drug users, who tend to be aware of and discuss new products and innovations, even if they are not using them themselves. In the absence of qualitative and contextual research, there is a danger of perpetuating understandings of drug use which are devoid of relevance or meaning for either drug users or health-service providers. This may encourage the formation of policy or the development of interventions which are inappropriate or ineffective and, at worst, counter-productive.Qualitative research is a pre-requisite for understanding and responding to drug use and has proved to be essential for:

  • interpreting statistical data and placing it in context;
  • providing insight into the problems and needs associated with a range of drug-using patterns;
  • assessing which types of interventions may be more effective; and
  • helping to evaluate the impact of those interventions on drug users.

From 1996 on, the EMCDDA has launched a series of projects to obtain a comprehensive and detailed picture of qualitative research on drug use in the European Union. Reports on the proceedings of EMCDDA seminars on injecting risk behaviour, the drug use-crime relationship and 'new drug trends' are available.

A major task has been to consolidate the network and highlight the value of qualitative research in understanding drug use and informing action and policy-making. Seminars have been attended by over 80 researchers and policy-makers, including representatives from the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe, the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), the World Health Organisation's Programme on Substance Abuse (WHO-PSA), the European Union's Phare Multi-country Programme for the Fight against Drugs and the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The seminars were partly supported by a grant from the Targeted Socio-Economic Research Programme of the Research Directorate-General of the European Commission.

A Scientific Monograph, Understanding and responding to drug use: the role of qualitative research, was published. For ordering information, click here.

To download a pre-print summary of the monograph, click here.

The EMCDDA continues to support the maintenance of the European researchers' network and stimulates qualitative researchers to seek financial support. The Centre also encourages the integration of qualitative research with other methods, as well as its use in innovative areas such as the E-POD project to develop methods for detecting, monitoring and responding to emerging trends using a case study approach. The method aims to assess the veracity of accumulated information by triangulation of information available from a wide range of different sources.

A first case study analysis of available information on hallucinogenic mushrooms is available here.Work is underway for a policy briefing on hallucinogenic mushrooms and for a thematic paper on GHB to be published in 2007.

Related documents
Seminar reports
Qualitative drug research and emerging trends (4-5 December 2000)
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Qualitative research on drug demand reduction (7-9 October 1999)
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Qualitative research: knowledge for effective action (29-31 October 1998)
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Qualitative research: method, practice and policy (2-4 July 1997)
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About the EMCDDA

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is the reference point on drugs and drug addiction information in Europe. Inaugurated in Lisbon in 1995, it is one of the EU's decentralised agencies. Read more >>

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Page last updated: Monday, 04 June 2007