Drug Market Variation: An Examination of Large and Small Markets

Kelly Damphousse, University of Oklahoma
Jay T. Gilliam, University of Oklahoma
Laura Pointon, University of Oklahoma

Understanding drug markets is an important task when we observe the strong relationship between violent crimes (such as homicide) and the variation in drug markets. The "systemic" theory of the drugs-crime relationship (Goldstein, 1985) is a reasonable explanation for this phenomenon. The systemic model of the drugs/crime relationship suggests that one way that drug use leads to violence is as part of the drug trade (i.e., turf protection). In fact, the recent decline in homicides has, in part, been described as resulting from a decrease in the crack cocaine epidemic (Steffensmeier and Harer, 1999). Empirical evidence about this relationship is scant. Some researchers (Zimring and Hawkins, 1997) suggest that the relationship appears to be stronger in some populations but not in others. In essence, they suggest that there may be some variable that conditions or modifies the relationship between drug market variation and variation in violence. If this is the case, then the next steps in the process is to search for theoretically important variables that might explain the conditions under which drug market variation and violence variation are related. Clearly, there is a need to know more about variation in drug markets. A recent study has attempted to examine this relationship. Ousey and Lee (2002) examined 122 cities that were larger than 100,000 in 1980. They showed that within-city variation in illicit drug market activity is positively associated with within-city variation of homicide rates. The effect of drug market change, however, is moderated by the conditions that exist in the community when the change takes place. Specifically, in cities with relatively less resource deprivation, the relationship between drug market change and homicide change is negative. Where there is more resource deprivation, the relationship is positive. While the Ousey and Lee paper sheds lights on the relationship between market change and change in violence, it does little to inform us about variation in drug markets from city to city. Drug market change was measured by merely recording arrest rates for cocaine and opiate sales. As the authors admit, this measure fails to distinguish between police activities and actual drug market activities. Such an examination would require data to be collected in a number of cities across the country. These data would have to come from reliable sources who would provide detailed information about the drug market in each city. Until recently, such data did not exist. With the advent of the new Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program survey instrument, however, we have for the first time detailed information about drug markets in many small and large cities across the US. With the new instrument, market and use data have been collected from random samples of recent arrestees in jails located in 30 US cities since 2000. These data are now becoming available for study. The data will not be able to assess change in drug markets over time (except in the very short term), but do allow for an examination of variation of the drug market from place to place. Important questions can now be asked about the relationship of drug market composition and violence. For example, do drug markets for the same drug vary regionally? That is, does the crack cocaine market in New York look the same as the crack cocaine market in San Diego and Miami? If there are differences, how do those differences affect the violent crime rates in each city? Another important question has to do with the extent to which drug markets vary by city size, relative prosperity, geography, and composition. Do drug markets for Methamphetamine in Oklahoma City and Omaha, for example, vary significantly from Methamphetamine markets in San Diego and Denver? Where there are differences in drug market composition, there may eventually be differences in the relationship between drug market changes and changes in violence. Answers to these questions will assist our efforts to more fully understand this relationship. In this paper, we closely examine drug markets in the 30 US cities that have collected data since 2000. After a close examination of the variation of the drug markets from city to city, we then compare incorporate important city level data (including violent crime, city composition, relative deprivation, city size, etc.), that allow for an additional examination of the interactive relationship between drug markets and violent crime.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006