CCHE Seminar Series: Transforming Research Into a “City of Omens”: The U.S.-Mexico Border, an HIV Epidemic, and Turning Epidemiologic Research Into Popular Science Writing

Dan Werb
St. Michael’s Hospital, University of Toronto, University of California – San Diego

Friday November 29, 2019, 10am-12pm, HSB 108 (155 College Street)

Abstract: For decades, American hungers sustained Tijuana. In his scientific detective story City of Omens: Search for the Missing Women of the Borderlands, Dr. Dan Werb reveals what happens when a border city’s lifeline is brutally severed. Despite its reputation as a carnival of vice, Tijuana was, until recently, no more or less violent than neighboring San Diego, its sister city across the border wall. But then something changed. Over the past ten years, Mexico’s third-largest city became one of the world’s most dangerous. Tijuana’s murder rate skyrocketed and produced a staggering number of female victims. When Dr. Werb began to study these murders in 2013, rather than viewing them in isolation, he discovered that they could only be understood as one symptom among many. Environmental toxins, drug overdoses, HIV transmission: all were killing women at overwhelming rates. As an epidemiologist, trained to track epidemics by mining data, Werb sought to understand whether a kind of syndemic was at work.  Werb’s search for the ultimate causes of Tijuana’s femicide casts new light on immigration, human trafficking, addiction, and the true cost of American empire-building. In this seminar, Dr. Werb will present the epidemiologic research that underpins City of Omens and discuss the process of translating it into popular scientific writing.

Dan Werb is an addictions epidemiologist and the author of City of Omens: A Search for the Missing Women of the Borderlands, which was chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of six true crime books to read in Summer 2019.  Booklist described City of Omens as, “a powerful addition to investigative coverage of the volatile borderland,” and Kirkus Reviews praised its “steely focus and smooth, vivid prose.” Dan’s work has also appeared in Salon, The Believer Magazine, Walrus Magazine, the Globe and Mail, and VICE, among others.

Dan is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto in the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation. He is also the Director of the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation, which conducts high-impact research and knowledge translation on improving the effectiveness of drug policy. Dan has published dozens of studies on issues related to addictions, drug policy, and HIV, with a focus on identifying the impact of policy and public health interventions on marginalized drug-using populations. Dan is the recipient of an Avenir Award from the National Institute of Drug Abuse and a Traiblazer Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. He is also the winner of a Canadian National Magazine Award for his popular science writing on injection drug use.