Telephones, Pagers, and the Transformation of Retail Illicit Drug Markets

Zhiwei Zhang, NORC at the University of Chicago
Dean R. Gerstein, NORC at the University of Chicago

With mobile communication devices becoming increasingly popular, pagers and telephones have become increasingly central to illicit drug dealing at the retail level. Using Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring System (ADAM) data from 2000-2002, this study will examine trends in the use of pagers and phones among drug buyers/dealers, including the relationship to a variety of drug market behaviors. Initial results: across the eight quarters of 2000-2001, the percent of arrestees who used phone/pagers to buy drugs increased dramatically for the five most prevalent drugs. It rose by about one-third for marijuana and methamphetamine transactions, two-thirds for crack and powder cocaine, and nearly doubled for heroin. At the end of 2001, just under half of the methamphetamine transactions were arranged with telephones or pagers, as was 24-36% of transactions involving each of the other major drugs. Bigger transactions involving larger amounts of money were the most likely to be arranged by telephone. Whereas 14% of drug purchases from new connections were arranged through Phones or pagers, 36% of drug transactions from regular sources were arranged this way. Phone or pager use was unrelated to whether drug transactions were made within or outside the buyer's neighborhood.

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Updated 05/20/2006