Understanding how high-level synthetic stimulant traffickers in Australia adapt to changes in their drug supply

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Copyright: O'Reilly, Matthew
Introduction. Illicit drug markets and associated supply disruptions have been studied for many years but with limited attention to how drug traffickers adapt to supply changes: the aim of this thesis. It combined five studies that examined past supply changes in Australia’s synthetic stimulant market, trafficker adaptations and consequences thereof. Method. In study 1, novel methods were developed to improve trend analysis of Australian law enforcement seizure data. Using these methods, studies 2 and 3 analysed supply changes in Australia’s ecstasy and meth/amphetamine markets between 2002 and 2014 using unit-record law enforcement seizure/purity data and various other indicators. Trends in six kinds of supply changes were analysed: quantity, purity, supply routes, mode of transport, precursor type, and form. In study 4, a quantitative content analysis was conducted on judges’ sentencing comments made between 2002 and 2016 (n=455), to systematically identify trafficker adaptations to quantity, purity/quality and form changes. In study 5, a mixed methods social network analysis was applied to a high-level trafficking network, to examine how it adapted to quantity and purity/quality changes over 15 years. Results. Significant supply changes were identified in Australia’s ecstasy and meth/amphetamine markets, including a decline in quantity and purity of ecstasy in 2010 (one year after Europe’s shortage) followed by a partial resurgence. Individual trafficker adaptations were diverse and depended on many factors (e.g. whether the supply change was caused by law enforcement or not). The studied network changed its structure and modus operandi after exposure to supply changes (e.g. a shift from mostly international trafficking to mostly domestic manufacture). Finally, most traffickers continued to sell drugs after supply changes. Conclusion. This research highlighted the complex adaptive nature of the illicit drug trade and its resilience to market change. Some adaptations had the potential to result in lower harm to the public (e.g. increasing the price or decreasing the purity), while others had the potential to result in greater harm (e.g. decreasing the price or adulterating the drugs). This makes it difficult to predict the outcome of any policy change or law enforcement intervention that aims to disrupt the supply of illicit drugs.
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O'Reilly, Matthew
Hughes, Caitlin
Ritter, Alison
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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