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The extent of ‘not-for-profit’ supply of illicit drugs in social networks in the Sydney marketplace for ecstasy

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Date Commenced:
Expected Date of Completion:
Project Supporters:

Colonial Foundation Trust

Drug Type:
Project Members: 
Dr David Bright
Associate Dean
Project Main Description: 

The current project is concerned with elucidating a little known phenomenon in retail level illicit drug markets: the supply of illicit drugs within social networks.  There is very little published empirical research in this area, a fact which itself strikes a call for further research.  Drug policy including law enforcement, harm reduction, and prevention policy can be informed by exploring this little poorly understood arena.

While economic theories suggest that dealers will balance the financial rewards with the risks (measured in pecuniary terms), the not for profit marketplace suggests the operation of alternate processes which have not been measured in a systematic manner. User-dealers who supply ecstasy within their own social network, may not be balancing risks with reward (financial profit) but against social capital profit or the social exchange value (e.g., status, likeability) they receive from others in exchange for their brokerage or supply of drugs. The rewards or gains may be social status, connectedness, being needed, or power (there is much research from social networks literature that individuals in a brokerage position e.g., for resources, are in powerful structural positions within social networks).

In the absence of clear understanding of the structure and functioning of the not for profit/social supply market, it is difficult for policy makers and for law enforcement to develop effective strategies. For example the current exchange relationships may shield users from direct interaction with more risky elements of illicit drug markets (e.g., members of organised crime groups). The current closed network-based marketplace may offer protection from potential harms and a reversal of this situation, or a move to open markets may be ill-advised.

  1. To determine the role of social networks in the supply of ecstasy at the retail level
  2. To investigate the social processes which facilitate the supply of illicit drugs at retail level
  3. To determine the characteristics of suppliers and brokers within retail markets
  4. To document the character of non-financial transactions and exchanges for ecstasy at retail level
Design and Method: 

Participants will be recruited from typical recruitment sites using traditional methods (advertisements in local newspapers, free press, flyers, websites, and snowball sampling).  We will recruit two groups: a group of non-dealing users and a group of user-dealers.

Participants will be administered two sets of questions. The first is a social network interview which maps out their network of friends and acquaintances; and the second is a questionnaire focused on drug use and drug dealing.

Project Research Area: 
Drug Type: