Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Supply-Side Reduction Policy and Drug-Related Harm

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Supply-Side Reduction Policy and Drug-Related Harm

Article excerpt

Supply reduction is one of the three pillars of Australia's drug policy. Some, however, have argued that supply reduction policy has failed because Australia (along with many other countries) spends very large sums of money on drug law enforcement, yet illegal drugs remain readily available and widely used (eg see Wodak & Owens 1996).

Direct evidence of the effect of supply reduction policy is fairly sparse. In their review, Mazerolle, Mazerolle, Soule and Rombouts (2007) identified four studies that examined the specific impact of supply control initiatives on drug use and drug-related harm initiatives on drug use and drug-related harm (Rumbold & Fry 1999; Smithson et al. 2004; Weatherburn & Lind 1997; Wood et al. 2003). Three of these studies (Rumbold & Fry 1999; Weatherburn & Lind 1997; Wood et al. 2003) found no effect of drug seizures on drug use patterns, drugrelated deaths or overdoses, treatment enrolment or rates of crime and arrest. Smithson et al. (2004) observed that the decline in heroin supply in the Australian Capital Territory from July 1996 to April 2002 was accompanied by a reduction in non-fatal overdoses, crime and entry into methadone treatment. Their study, however, straddled the Australian heroin shortage. This was an exceptional event. To date, there is little evidence to suggest that 'routine' drug seizures are followed by a decline in drug consumption and drug-related harm.

The aim of the current study was to examine the impact of seizures and supplier arrests on the use of and harms associated with three drugs-heroin, cocaine and amphetaminetype substances (ATS). The question this study sought to address is whether seizures of heroin, cocaine and ATS, and/or supplier arrests have any effect on emergency department admissions and use/possess arrests for (a) heroin (b) cocaine and (c) ATS or on offences often committed by users of these drugs, namely (d) theft (e) robbery and (f) assault. It should be noted that use/possession arrests have been shown to be a useful indicator of trends in heroin, cocaine and ATS use (Moffatt, Wan & Weatherburn 2012).

More specifically, our interest lies in determining whether there is an inverse contemporaneous or lagged relationship between any of the outcomes (a)-(f) and:

1. The number of heroin seizures.

2. The weight of heroin seized.

3. The number of heroin supplier arrests.

4. The number of cocaine seizures.

5. The weight of cocaine seized.

6. The number of cocaine supplier arrests.

7. The number of ATS seizures.

8. The weight of ATS seized.

9. The number of ATS supplier arrests. Seizures and supplier arrests in jurisdictions outside New South Wales were included because they may affect the market for heroin, cocaine or ATS in New South Wales. New South Wales was chosen as the site for an examination of the effects of seizures and supplier arrests because it has one of the largest markets for these three drugs in Australia. In the next section, the methods used to answer these questions are described in more detail.



The study period extended from July 2001 to June 2011. Data on monthly drug seizures (weight and frequency) and drug supplier arrests were obtained from the National Illicit Drug Reporting Format system maintained by the Australian Crime Commission. Data on monthly use/ possess arrests, theft, robbery and assault were sourced from the NSW crime and operational policing system database. Data on heroin, cocaine and ATS emergency department admissions were obtained from the NSW Department of Health.

Treatment of seizure data

For the purpose of this study, a seizure was defined as a quantity of heroin, cocaine or ATS that lay in the top 20 percent of the distribution of heroin, cocaine or ATS seizures by weight across the entire study period. The mean weights (m), standard deviations (SD) and interquartile ranges (IQR) of seizures at or above these thresholds in each of the three drug type categories examined was:

* Heroin-m=173. …

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