'I have no clue why I’m doing this' – a qualitative study on crack cocaine use in Frankfurt, Germany



While crack cocaine nearly disappeared from the focus of international social drug research, it has been the ‘co-no. 1 drug’ in the marginalized drug users’ scene in Frankfurt for almost two decades. In the last two years, there has been a growing discussion about the local ‘open drug scene’ and particularly the use of this drug that has recently increased. These developments called for a closer look on the users, their motivations for using crack cocaine and links to the local discourse on drug policy. We also had a closer look at possible reasons why there are only few central European urban drug scenes (such as Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Paris) with a significant level of crack cocaine use.


Semi-structured qualitative interviews were employed to gather data from 30 persons (12 female, 18 male), mostly identified as members of the local scene of marginalized ‘hard drugs’ users. Interviews took place between July and September 2017. Interviewees were recruited by approaching them on the street, mainly around harm reduction services (e.g., consumption rooms).


Nearly all participants of the study are regular crack cocaine users, besides several other drugs (in descending order: alcohol, cannabis, heroin, benzodiazepines). Half of the users receive opioid maintenance therapy. Their daily grind is mostly making money and buying drugs in order to use them. While a significant part reported binges of several hours or days as typical pattern of use, others use the drug in a more regulated way, e.g. on few occasions per day. Apart from some who referred to the performance-enhancing effects, often no particular motives for crack use were stated. Instead, the drug was frequently described as dominating one’s mind and routine after the first “hit of the day”. A vast majority described staying in the core area of the drug scene (“Bahnhofsviertel”) as the strongest trigger for using crack.


The typical Frankfurt-based crack user started his/her career of compulsive drug use with heroin addiction, but practices poly-drug use since many years. The ubiquitous wish to change the life routine is in stark contrast to the long-practiced circle of stigmatization, deviant identity, ritualization, and drug effects. The described trigger effect of the mere presence in the Bahnhofsviertel underlines the significance of social factors reinforced by others and own peers for the maintenance of the users’ situation. Recently, the reduction of public space for drug users because of gentrification seems to have worsened the users’ situation, which might have contributed to an increased crack use wer


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