Alice-Rap Reframes Approaches to Addiction

Drug dealer taking money for heroine and ecstasy

Photo by Photographee.eu/Fotolia

Using new data from interviews with 135 imprisoned drug dealers, RAND Europe sought to understand how cocaine and heroin dealers in Italy, Slovenia and Germany organise their dealing operations. This research describes dealers’ careers, business strategies and approaches to risk management.

Background

Alice-Rap (Addiction and Lifestyles in Contemporary Europe - Reframing Addictions Project) was a five year European research project, co-financed by the European Commission that brought together around 200 scientists from more than 25 countries and 29 different disciplines. It aimed to strengthen scientific evidence to inform the public and political dialogue and to stimulate a broad and productive debate on current and alternative approaches to addictions.

Goals

RAND Europe coordinated one of Alice Rap’s six research areas looking at the ‘business of addiction’ – including the revenues, profits and participants in legal and illegal markets for addictive goods and ‘webs of influence’ on policy responses.

RAND researchers led a work package aimed at understanding how cocaine and heroin dealers in Italy, Slovenia and Germany organise their dealing operations. Based on data from interviews with 135 imprisoned drug dealers, the study describes dealers’ careers, business strategies and approaches to risk management. The data from these countries was collected by partners at the Institute for Research and Development (UTRIP), Slovenia, the Technische Universitaet Dresden, Germany and the United Nations Interrogational Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI).

Few studies are able to rely upon first-hand accounts from dealers and traffickers, and these data may offer insights for researchers, policymakers and law enforcement.

Key Findings

While this study’s findings cannot be used to make generalisations about the wider population of drug dealers, these 135 interviews nevertheless offer rich insights into some of the strategies and processes developed by cocaine and heroin dealers in these countries.

  • Dealers commonly reported that their involvement in selling drugs and entry into the market was facilitated by family and friends. Other reported motivations for becoming a dealer included supporting their own drug consumption and desires for personal enrichment.
  • Some evidence of career progression, as for example the majority of dealers reported an increase in the amount of drugs sold. Dealers referred to personal characteristics and skills as well as social and financial capital as key factors explaining career progression. Dealers were also aware of some of the risks associated with ‘moving up’.
  • Most dealers reported having regular suppliers and aimed to sell mainly to regular customers.
  • Tactics employed to secure a stable customer base included offering discounts, providing credit, ‘freebies’ or ‘extras’.
  • Dealers sought to maximise their profits by cutting drugs but were also concerned with the quality of the product being sold.
  • Drug dealers were motivated to develop their business in such a way as to avoid drawing the attention of the police and to minimize conflicts with competitors. They employed an array of strategies to mitigate risks: from being careful and creative regarding transportation and storage of drugs and communication with customers and suppliers, to keeping a low profile and ‘blending in’, and limiting their business operations.