Examining the relative cost effectiveness of different types of law enforcement interventions directed towards methamphetamine.

image - 1342419852 Crime Square
Date Commenced:
Project Supporters:

Australian Institute of Criminology - National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund

Project Members: 
image - Caitlin Hughes
Senior Lecturer
Ph 02 9385 0132
image - 1314146187 Chalmers Jenny 06
Dr Jenny Chalmers
Conjoint Senior Lecturer
Project Main Description: 

Governments and policy makers are interested in determining which interventions are more or less effective than others, such that the scarce funding resources can be allocated in the most efficient manner possible. Thus, where should law enforcement invest its resources? The project aimed to determine the relative cost to impact ratios of different law enforcement strategies aimed at methamphetamine production and distribution. In an environment focused on efficiency in resource allocation, it is hoped that policy-makers will be able to use the information to improve decision-making on law enforcement investment.

  1. To provide a rich description of the Australian methamphetamine supply chains in order to inform drug law enforcement interventions; and
  2. To conduct an economic evaluation of different law enforcement interventions directed at different levels of the methamphetamine market.
Design and Method: 

This study combines qualitative methods with quantitative methods.
For the first aim, we used three data sources to thoroughly document the methamphetamine supply chains: key informants from law enforcement, published literature (peer-review, grey literature and conference papers), and judges’ sentencing comments in methamphetamine cases.
For the second aim, we undertook an economic modelling exercise. We built an economic model that compared policing costs with impact, as measured by methamphetamine seizures. 

  1. There are two supply chains for methamphetamine in Australia: the first commences offshore and includes the importation of end-product (distributed domestically) and precursors (which are then used to manufacture end-product in Australia); the second supply chain commences domestically (with sourcing of precursors) and involves domestic manufacture and distribution. The supply chains converge at the wholesale level within Australia.
  2. Crystal methamphetamine is mainly imported and then distributed within Australia. Non-crystal methamphetamine (powder and base) is mainly locally produced and is then distributed by a range of criminal networks. There is some evidence of domestic manufacture of crystal and of importation of non-crystal methamphetamine (powder, but not base)
  3. We found evidence of diverse organised crime groups involved in methamphetamine manufacture and trafficking (Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, multi-national syndicates, ethnically-based crime syndicates, and so on). These organised crime groups will cooperate with each other for financial gain.
  4. The methamphetamine market is characterised by corporate organisational structures (with vertical integration, such as OMCG); freelance structures (sole operators, such as “meth cooks”); and communal organisations tied with common backgrounds/values (ethnically-based organised crime groups). The existence of all three market structures is potentially challenging for police, given the different features. For example communal organisations rely on relational capital (trust between members) and are therefore hard to infiltrate (e.g., with undercover operatives) and break. Vertically organised hierarchical structures imply policy attention at the top of the hierarchy is likely to bring greatest results. Freelance structures means that police cannot direct their resources to a particular organisation or chain of supply.
  5. In terms of price, methamphetamine seems to be subject to the following pricing rule: for every 10% increase in transaction size the unit price will fall by 1.21% for crystal form and by 1.47% for non crystal form. In relation to purity, we conclude that purity varied greatly across weight. In addition, our analysis did not support the assumption of higher weight associated with higher purity.
  6. The economic model results indicate that the highest ranked intervention, in terms of average costs to impact, was clandestine laboratory detections. Ranked second was end-product trafficking seizures (domestic); third was precursor seizures and the lowest ranked intervention relative to all four was end-product border seizures, but these last two were not substantially different.

Gong, W., Ritter, A., & Bright, D. (in press). How profitable is methamphetamine dealing in Australia? Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Accepted 1/10/11
Bright, D. A., & Ritter, A. (2010). Retail price as an outcome measure for the effectiveness of drug law enforcement. International Journal of Drug Policy, 21(5), 359-363.

Bright, D. A. (2009, February). The psychology of high level drug dealers: How well do dealers evaluate their risk of detection by law enforcement agencies? Paper presented at the APS College of Forensic Psychologists Conference, Melbourne.
Bright, D. A. (2008, August). Examining the consequences of different types of law enforcement interventions directed towards methamphetamine. Paper presented at the 2008 DPMP Seminar, Sydney.
Bright, D. A. (2009, July). Interviews with Incarcerated High Level Drug Dealers: Benefits, challenges, and methodologies. Paper presented at the 31st International Congress on Law and Mental Health. New York, USA.
Bright, D. A., & Ritter, A. (2009, November). A conceptual framework for illicit drug seizures: what do seizures really mean? Poster presented at the 28th Annual Conference of the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs, Darwin, Australia.
Gong, W., Ritter, A., & Bright, D. A. (2009, November). Review of economic evaluation methods of law enforcement against drugs. Paper presented at the 28th Annual Conference of the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs, Darwin, Australia.
Gong, W., Ritter, A., & Bright, D. A. (2010, March). Understanding the dynamics of Australian methamphetamine markets: making better use of price data. Paper presented at the 4th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy, Santa Monica, USA.

Project Research Area: 
Project Status: 
Year Completed: