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Drug-dealing business

by msecadm4921

Police and campaigners against the spread of illegal drugs should beware stereotypes of drug-dealing areas as unpopular, socially-divided neighbourhoods.

Police and campaigners against the spread of illegal drugs should beware stereotypes of drug-dealing areas as unpopular, socially-divided neighbourhoods. Although drug dealers find ways to exploit run-down areas, research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows they can also thrive in neighbourhoods with a strong sense of community – in some cases operating as established ‘family’ businesses, it is claimed.

Researchers from King’s College London conducted a study of the relationship between illegal drug markets and communities, including interviews with 68 dealers, 800 residents and more than 120 professionals from the police and other local agencies.

Focusing on four contrasted, drug-dealing neighbourhoods in England, the research found widespread concern among residents, with particular anxiety about intimidation, violence and harm to their area’s reputation. But it also emerged that many sellers came from their local communities and had family and friends who had gained from the money and cheap, stolen goods associated with drug dealing.

What they say

"Some drug markets are closely linked with both the legal and illegal economies of their neighbourhoods. In the sites we studied we found that drug dealing was sometimes run by cohesive groups with local family ties and extensive local networks of friends," said Prof Mike Hough, co-author of the report.

"Fragmented neighbourhoods that are socially disorganised can – as a result of inertia or neglect – provide a suitable setting for an active drugs market. But it is equally clear that deprived, but cohesive, closely-knit neighbourhoods can also provide fertile soil for the development of drug dealing."

Among the case-study areas, one – referred to as ‘Byrne Valley’ in the report – was characterised by small clusters of drug dealing networks that were tightly controlled by local families. Drugs were ordered by mobile phone and delivered by ‘runners’ who were not drug users themselves. The dealers claimed to exercise a degree of control over other types of crime in the area as a way of protecting their market.

A second area – ‘Midson Vale’ – combined established dealers with a less organised ‘street’ market. A ‘free market’ was also found in ‘Sidwell Rise’ and ‘Etherington’, the two remaining neighbourhoods. Drug selling in Sidwell Rise had previously been controlled by local dealers. Community-backed action against the established sellers had led to a number of dealers being jailed, but this had also opened the local market to outside dealers, prepared to take greater risks – including use of guns. Sustained police enforcement had also led to some drug dealing being ‘displaced’ into neighbouring Etherington.

Among other findings from the report:

evidence that the involvement of young people in drug markets may be increasing. They were most extensively used in Byrne Valley as runners or lookouts. Professionals in another area reported youths as young as 14 working in shifts to sell drugs.

over half the dealers interviewed had previously lived in local authority care or secure accommodation. They typically had no educational qualifications and used alcohol and illicit drugs from an early age. Two-thirds had served a prison sentence.

earnings from drug selling varied widely. The average weekly income reported by ten ‘profit dealers’ whose motives were entirely commercial was £7,500. ‘User-dealers’ and runners reported average earnings of £450 a week.

half the sellers said they accepted stolen goods in payment for drugs. The clear implication was that the drug market existed alongside an active market for stolen property.


The report concludes that action against drug selling demands better understanding of local circumstances and the ambivalent relationships that some communities have with their illicit economies. Tiggey May, a Senior Research Fellow and co-author of the report said: "While arresting and punishing dealers is an essential part of any strategic response, support from the community and other agencies is essential. Preventing young people from entering a drug market also needs to be tackled at a local level. Youth workers can do highly effective work because young people trust them and can communicate with them. Different types of drug market will demand different responses. But if those who aim to tackle the local drugs trade misunderstand or oversimplify the ways that they work, they risk failure and may create worse problems than already exist."

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