Headlines: November 28th, 2005

Police and anti-drugs campaigners have been warned against believing the stereotypical view of drug-dealing areas as being unpopular and socially-divided. Unique research carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows drug dealers also thrive in neighbourhoods with a strong sense of community and, in some cases, operate as established ‘family’ businesses.A team from King’s College London conducted the largest British study to date of the relationship between illegal drug markets and communities. The research, published today, includes interviews with 68 dealers, 800 residents and more than 120 professionals from the police and other local agencies. The research focuses on four contrasting drug-dealing neighbourhoods in England. It finds widespread concern among local people who are particularly anxious about intimidation, violence and harm to the reputation of their area.

The study shows that many sellers came from their local communities and had family and friends who had benefited from the money and cheap, stolen goods associated with drug dealing. Among the case-study areas one, identified only as ‘Byrne Valley’ in the report, had small clusters of drug dealing networks that were tightly controlled by local families.

“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 Professor Mike Hough, co-author of the report.

Other key findings in the report show there was evidence that young people may be getting increasingly involved in drug markets. More that half the dealers interviewed had previously lived in local authority care or secure accommodation and typically had no educational qualifications. Two-thirds had served a prison sentence. Earnings from drug selling varied widely and half the sellers said they accepted stolen goods in payment for drugs.

The report says action against drug selling demands better understanding of local circumstances and the ambivalent relationship some communities have with their illicit economies. Tiggey May, a Senior Research Fellow and co-author of the report said, “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.”