Young people see drug dealing as ‘work’ to buy consumer goods

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Intimidation and violence drives local drug markets and enables drug bosses to keep communities “insecure, fearful, and subordinate”, research shows.

The study says drug dealing is seen as a type of “work” among young people entangled in the trade, who view it as a means to buy consumer goods. The research, conducted by Dr Matt Bowden at Technological University Dublin, says there is hope and that young people are “open” to finding alternatives.

The study, commissioned by the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign, involved interviews with social workers, youth workers, and drug activists in parts of Dublin. They told Dr Bowden of the “normalisation” of drug problems in communities.

The research found that “intimidation, violence, and threats” drive the drug economy in these areas. It says drug-related intimidation, including over debts owed, was key to how drug distribution networks were organised.

Systemic intimidation is a critical experience for young people and their communities.

It says dominant drug dealers “appear to rule within communities” through the secondary impact of intimidation. These acts result in “symbolic domination” keeping the community “insecure, fearful, and subordinate”.

This is compounded by what interviewees say is the “sense of abandon” that working class communities have endured. The report points out that where stable work is unavailable, the drug economy becomes an “attractive alternative”.

It says: “The overall sense from the interviews was that people were being drawn into the drug economy because their prospects in the labour market were poor.”

The study says the practice of giving credit or “fronting” drugs to young people for redistribution or consumption is seen as a “widespread practice”.

The research says that while males are the primary victims of intimidation, women are not protected from violence.

One youth worker said some of the young men lead a “frantic existence”, caught up in cycles of drug-related offending, debt, temporary exit, and prison time.

The report says:

They appear to be compelled to have to do a ‘bigger deal’ to pay fines of debts.

Interviewees said there is a difference among the young men now compared to the past — presenting as “more brash, frantic, and volatile”. The report says the drug economy is organised like a network rather than a hierarchy, often involving “networks of friends selling to friends”.

“Working through groups of friends, participants pointed out that the drug dealer is not a remote, evil person, but one who is very much integrated and part of local networks,” says the report, noting that violence “permeates” the distribution system and appears to interviewees as “indiscriminate and insatiable”.

The report says young people need to be educated about the economics of the drugs trade, including around credit, which is “an economic bond and not an altruistic act”.

The research says the quality of relationships the young people have with local workers was crucial. “Participants underline that young people in this situation are not untouchable and are open to finding alternatives in many cases,” it states.

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