A Qualitative Study of Women in Drug Markets

Principal Investigator: Sheigla Murphy, PhD
Project Director: Paloma Sales, PhD
Supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA018159)

The overall aim of this proposed 36-month project was to conduct a qualitative study of women drug sellers in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Employing ethnographic sampling techniques, we recruited 160 participants (40 from each drug group: marijuana, club drugs, heroin, and stimulants) who have sold or exchanged drugs five or more times in the prior six months.  From our own and others’ research in this area we know that drug markets are often differentiated based on the type of drugs sold.  We chose four drug groups marijuana; stimulants (including cocaine, crack and methamphetamine) club drugs (ecstasy, GHB Rohypnol, LSD and Ketamine) and heroin because from previous work we thought they represented distinct drug distribution networks and, more importantly, populations of consumers.  We interviewed women involved in drug distribution who are 18 years of age or older and who resided in the San Francisco Bay Area. By extending the study to relatively low level sellers of a number of different drugs, we interviewed a full range of distributors, from user/sellers to sellers who do not use, from initiates to long term dealers, from sellers who sold one drug only to those who sold other drugs as well, from small scale go-betweens to wholesalers, and from sellers and buyers who were strangers to those who were friends or relatives.

This exploratory project provides much needed empirical information on the women sellers’ unique experiences in order to design more effective and appropriate public health initiatives and interventions that are designed to target gender-sensitive and gender-specific risk factors.  This project gathered information regarding the impact of gender on distribution practices and personal use patterns and, in turn, the health-related dangers for women who sell drugs.

Papers from the A Qualitative Study of Women in Drug Markets Project

  • Jacinto, C., Duterte, M., Sales, P., & Murphy, S. “‘I’m not a real dealer’: The identity process of Ecstasy sellers.” Journal of Drug Issues, 2008.
  • Sales, Paloma. 2009. Women in Drug Markets: An Intersectionality Approach to a Sociological Theory of Drug Dealing. Proquest/UMI. Pub. # 10112.
  • Sales, P., Murphy, S. & Jacinto, C. “How Do You Get them to Talk to You?:  Interviewing Drug Sellers in the San Francisco Bay Area,” Substance Use and Misuse forthcoming, 2010.