Social-spatial network structures among young urban and suburban persons who inject drugs in a large metropolitan area

Qinyun Lin, Javier Andres Rojas Aguilera, Leslie D. Williams, Mary Ellen Mackesy-Amiti, Carl Latkin, Juliet Pineros, Marynia Kolak, Basmattee Boodram

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Recent studies underscore the significance of adopting a syndemics approach to study opioid misuse, overdose, hepatitis C (HCV) and HIV infections, within the broader context of social and environmental contexts in already marginalized communities. Social interactions and spatial contexts are crucial structural factors that remain relatively underexplored. This study examines the intersections of social interactions and spatial contexts around injection drug use. More specifically, we investigate the experiences of different residential groups among young (aged 18-30) people who inject drugs (PWID) regarding their social interactions, travel behaviors, and locations connected to their risk behaviors. By doing so, we aim to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the multidimensional risk environment, thereby facilitating the development of informed policies. Methods: We collected and examined data regarding young PWID's egocentric injection network and geographic activity spaces (i.e., where they reside, inject drugs, purchase drugs, and meet sex partners). Participants were stratified based on the location of all place(s) of residence in the past year i.e., urban, suburban, and transient (both urban and suburban) to i) elucidate geospatial concentration of risk activities within multidimensional risk environments based on kernel density estimates; and ii) examine spatialized social networks for each residential group. Results: Participants were mostly non-Hispanic white (59%); 42% were urban residents, 28% suburban, and 30% transient. We identified a spatial area with concentrated risky activities for each residential group on the West side of Chicago in Illinois where a large outdoor drug market area is located. The urban group (80%) reported a smaller concentrated area (14 census tracts) compared to the transient (93%) and suburban (91%) with 30 and 51 tracts, respectively. Compared to other areas in Chicago, the identified area had significantly higher neighborhood disadvantages. Significant differences were observed in social network structures and travel behaviors: suburban participants had the most homogenous network in terms of age and residence, transient participants had the largest network (degree) and more non-redundant connections, while the urban group had the shortest travel distance for all types of risk activities. Conclusion: Distinct residential groups exhibit varying patterns of network interaction, travel behaviors, and geographical contexts related to their risk behaviors. Nonetheless, these groups share common concentrated risk activity spaces in a large outdoor urban drug market area, underscoring the significance of accounting for risk spaces and social networks in addressing syndemics within PWID populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104217
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • injection drug use
  • neighborhood disadvantage
  • risk activity space
  • social network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Social-spatial network structures among young urban and suburban persons who inject drugs in a large metropolitan area'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this