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PCP Research Excerpt
A short section from the "Technologies for Understanding and Preventing Substance Abuse and Addiction" by the US Government Office of Technology Assessment, October 18, 1994, Chapter 7 regarding the study:

Feldman, H. W. "PCP Use in Four Cities: An Overview." Angel Dust: An Ethnographic Study of PCP Users, H.W. Feldman, M.H. Agar, & G.M. Beschner (eds.) (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1979).



Phencyclidine (PCP)

An ethnographic study in 1979 of PCP users is frequently cited for its substantive findings and methodological contribution as the first multisite ethnographic drug study. Initiating the study when PCP use was believed to be spreading among white working-class and middle-class young people, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) contracted for a four-city ethnographic study of PCP users not in treatment. After 3 months of working in Miami, Florida, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Illinois, and Seattle, Washington, ethnographers documented groups of users and the underlying social processes. They found that it was relatively rare for a young person to use PCP exclusively. Use occurred mainly within socially distinctive groups of young people who displayed "a kind of restlessness, an orientation for action, and a sense that life generally was boring, uninteresting, and lacked recreational activities" (22).

The young people studied were very knowledgeable about drug effects and understood that the PCP drug experience varied dramatically with dosage. Low doses of the drug were reported by different user groups to be mildly euphoric and hallucinogenic like LSD, or sedating like barbiturates. What concerned regular PCP users was not the acute adverse effects reported in the media (e.g., psychotic episodes, assaultive outburst, irreparable harm), but rather "burning out"--a "spacey" state accompanied by incoherent thoughts, forgetfulness, and memory loss. As burnout became apparent, individual users and groups of users consciously cut back their PCP use. Within this group, violent episodes were found to be rare, mainly involving efforts by law enforcement or hospital treatment staff to restrain users, thereby seeming to set off panic reactions and struggle.

The study suggested that a significant gap existed between official agencies responsible for drug education and prevention and street drug users. When PCP use increased dramatically in the mid 1970s, there were no official responses because quantitative national data sources, such as surveys of high school students and hospital emergency reports, failed to include PCP as a separa te drug. When the official agencies recognized the widespread use of PCP, their prevention efforts were viewed by users as distorted and were discounted. Ethnographers attribute the eventual decline in PCP use to "the general consensus among users themselves on the negative features of its long-term effects rather than the kind of expert opinion that accompanies legitimate efforts at prevention" (22).