chapter  8
20 Pages

Illicit drugs: paying for the goods and assessing the costs

Having spent the previous three chapters examining global and economic issues inherent in the illicit drug industry, this chapter returns to more domestic concerns. In the previous edition of the book I noted that we needed to pay particular concern to two related ‘problem’ areas often associated with illicit drug use: (a) those of the drug/crime link, and (b) the damage drug use does to individuals and society, and this is still the case some seven years later. From the outset it is important to be aware of the centrality the drug/crime

link holds for UK policy developments. For example, in 2008 the Home Office produced the following figures:

problematic drug use could cost around £15.4 billion per annum of which 99 per cent is generated by problematic drug users;

between 33 and 50 per cent of acquisitive crime is believed to be drug related. (Home Office 2008)

This was endorsed by the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith when she stated that: ‘It costs taxpayers millions to deal with the health problems caused by drugs and to tackle the crimes such as burglary, car theft, mugging and robbery which are committed by some users to fund their habit’ (Smith 2008). This is an important point because, part of the rationale for the state intervening in illicit drug use lies in the damage caused to the wider community – the external costs. Crime which is linked to drug use is clearly seen as the largest and most important of these ‘external costs’. The chapter begins by exploring the link between illicit drug use and

crime. From this point, the chapter moves to offer a typology of illicit drug using offenders, identifying and discussing three distinct, but not mutually exclusive, groups. The purpose of this section is to make a distinction between the costs incurred by recreational users, offenders who use illicit drugs and ‘heavy-end’ or problematic drug users who are drug dependent and appear to be committing crimes to finance their drug use. It also serves to discuss the nature of the links between illicit drug use and acquisitive crime.

In the final sections, the chapter examines, in detail, the notion of ‘cost’, and expands the previously made point regarding costs as being monetary and non-monetary, as well as individual and societal. Just before commencing on that pathway, it is important to point out that,

for the purposes of this chapter, ‘crime’ and ‘offending’ will be taken to mean what Chaiken and Chaiken (1991) call ‘income generating’ offences, but which will be referred to here as ‘acquisitive crime’. This includes offences such as burglary, shoplifting, fraud, and unlike Chaiken and Chaiken’s work, prostitution and other sex crimes. It does not include crimes of violence. This is not to say that drug users do not commit crimes of violence – some clearly do and the consequences of their actions are of concern. However, our focus here is to explore the link between acquisitive property crime and illicit drug use, for it is the link between acquisitive crime and drug use that seems to worry the British state more than the links between crimes of violence and illicit drug use.