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Assessing the Scale and Impact of Illicit Drug Markets in Scotland


1 Introduction

This report describes a study that aims to assess the scale and impact of illicit drug markets in Scotland. There are two key elements to the study. The first is to provide an initial estimate of the size of the illicit drugs market, both in terms of monetary value and the amount of drugs used. The second is to provide an initial estimate of economic and wider social costs of illicit drug use in Scotland. All of these estimates are initial estimates based solely on currently available data sources. The study also makes a number of recommendations on potential improvements to data sources in order to improve the robustness of any future estimates. An Excel file containing the analysis and listing all data sources used for both parts of the study has been made available and should be used in conjunction with this report.

It is clearly important to have information on the size of the illicit drugs market in Scotland and the social and economic costs attributable to Scotland's illicit drug users. Estimates of the size of the market give an indication of the amount of drugs used in Scotland, both in monetary terms and the physical amount used. The wider estimates of the economic and social costs of drug use provide a measure of the total costs to society of drug use by considering the consequences of drug use such as drug-related crime, health service use, drug related deaths and the cost of social care. Both types of estimates are needed, not just at a national level but also at a local level to inform the work of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency ( SCDEA), the Alcohol and Drug Partnerships ( ADPs) and their partner organisations in health and social care. Such estimates need not only to be accurate and robust, but also based on data sources that can be updated over time to give an indication about trends in costs / market size.

There have been previous attempts to size the UK market for illicit drugs; however such studies primarily focus on England and Wales and only include an extrapolation to the UK level, so it is not possible to disaggregate these estimates to provide estimates for Scotland. In terms of estimating the economic and social costs of illicit drug use, previous Home Office reports (Godfrey et al, 2002; Gordon et al, 2006) have been upfront in their focus solely on England and Wales, without any attempt to include Scotland or Northern Ireland in their analyses.

This study is therefore the first attempt to size the Scottish market for illicit drugs and provide estimates of the economic and social costs of Scotland's drug use. In contrast to previous UK studies, this study aims to bring the two elements (markets and economic / social costs) together in a unified approach. This is sensible, not least because both elements depend heavily on estimates of the number of individuals in Scotland who are using illicit drugs. This study also has a broader remit than the previous Home Office studies in that it tries to encompass a wider range of illicit substances: previous economic and social costs studies have included only Class A drugs while previous sizing the markets studies excluded methadone and benzodiazepines.

We begin by providing a brief review of the more prominent UK studies. A wider review of the international literature was beyond the scope of this study. We therefore focussed on two Home Office funded studies that aimed to estimate the size of the UK market for illicit drugs. The first was by Bramley-Harker (2001) which provided estimates (mainly for England and Wales) for 1998. The second was by Pudney and colleagues (2006) which provided estimates for 2003/04 and similarly had a focus towards England and Wales. There are two main studies estimating the economic and social costs of drug use in England and Wales. The first was carried out by Godfrey et al (2002) and the second, which provided updated estimates following the approach of Godfrey, is reported in Gordon et al (2006).

The review of these studies is included to put the Scottish work in context, rather than to determine the methodological approach taken within this study. The methods that were used in this study were agreed with the advisory group that was established to oversee the study, and were constrained by the need to base the initial estimates solely on currently available data, as additional data collection was beyond the scope of this study. There was however a desire, so far as possible, that the results for Scotland would be comparable to those previously obtained for England.