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A recent study by the Garda Síochána Research Unit (Furey and Browne 2004) has sought to establish the link between opiate use and criminal activity in Ireland for the years 2000/2001.1 An earlier study by Keogh (1997) focused on the drug–crime relationship in Dublin.2 Both studies combined the use of official police statistics and interviews with drug users. The purpose of the Keogh study was to provide reliable information on the relationship between illicit drugs and the commission of crime in the Dublin Metropolitan Area (DMA). The study by Furey and Browne (2004) extended the analysis to the other Garda Síochána regions throughout the State. Another difference between the two studies is that Furey and Browne examined the use of opiate-based drugs only, while Keogh reported on some individuals who used only non-opiates such as ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamines. However, the majority (93%) of the subjects in Keogh’s report were opiate users.
Both studies combined the use of official police statistics and interviews with drug users. The purpose of the Keogh study was to provide reliable information on the relationship between illicit drugs and the commission of crime in the Dublin Metropolitan Area (DMA). The study by Furey and Browne extended the analysis to the other Garda Síochána regions throughout the state. Another difference between the two studies is that Furey and Browne examined the use of opiate-based drugs only, while Keogh included some individuals who used only non-opiates such as ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamines. However, the majority (93%) of the subjects in Keogh’s report were opiate users.
The two studies incorporated three principal phases. Phase One involved an estimation of the total number of opiate users known to the Gardaí at the time of the study. In the Keogh study, 3,817 opiate users were identified in the DMA in 1996, while Furey and Browne recorded a figure of 4,706 opiate users in the DMA. However, a valid comparison cannot be made between these figures. Firstly, Furey and Browne’s figure is based on data for two years, 2000 and 2001, while Keogh’s figure is based on data for a single year. Secondly, as Furey and Browne point out, the DMA is now larger than it was at the time of the Keogh study, incorporating an extra garda division.
Phase Two involved a survey of a sample of the drug users identified in phase one. The surveys sought to elicit data about the drug users themselves, their drug-taking environment and their criminality.
Phase Three involved an examination of national crime figures in order to estimate the relationship between opiate use and crime. Keogh estimated that drug users were responsible for 66 per cent of detected indictable crime, while Furey and Browne concluded that drug users were responsible for just 28 per cent of detected crime. While this difference is quite striking, it can be explained by some of the survey findings from Phase Two. A number of these findings are given in Table 1.
Furey and Browne survey 2002
Crime as main source of income
Unemployment rate among drug users
Most common age of first taking drugs
Drug first used – cannabis
Drug first used – heroin
First introduced to drugs by friend
Estimated daily expenditure on drugs*
Percentage who sourced drugs from local drug dealer
Crime came before drugs
Drugs came before crime
Drug use and crime started together
Percentage who had been in prison
*Keogh estimated that the cost of one gram of heroin in 1997 was €100 (Keogh, 1997: 40). Furey and Browne do not provide a figure. However, the current cost of one gram of heroin is approximately €190.
In the Keogh study 59 per cent cited crime as their main source of income, while the figure in the Furey and Browne study was 13 per cent. It is also noteworthy that the Keogh study reported an unemployment rate of 84 per cent among the sample, while Furey and Browne report an unemployment rate of 55 per cent. This latter finding supports the economic motivation theory by suggesting a lesser dependence on the proceeds of crime in a context of available employment. It also indicates an ability among opiate users to maintain employment despite their addiction. A factor that may have contributed to this is the increased availability of drug treatment in the time between the two studies. Indeed, Furey and Browne found that 75 per cent of respondents claimed that their receipt of drug treatment had in fact decreased their criminal activity.
A worrying finding of the Furey and Browne study relates to the apparent stabilisation of local drug markets over time and the ease of drug availability. The study records an increase from 46 to 76 per cent in the number stating that they sourced their drugs from a local dealer. This has serious implications for local policing and other supply control initiatives.
Another significant difference between the two studies relates to the relationship between respondents’ initiation into drug use and their criminal activity. While the Keogh study found that 51 per cent of respondents had committed crime before beginning to use drugs, a finding which is broadly consistent with the international literature, Furey and Browne recorded a figure of 30 per cent.
The survey findings of the Furey and Browne study must be treated with a degree of caution, however, because of the poor survey response rate. The response rate in the Furey and Browne survey was just 27 per cent (131 out of 486) compared to 78 per cent (351 out of 450) in the Keogh study. Furey and Browne compared the respondents and non-respondents in their according to two available variables, gender and possession of a criminal record, and found little difference between the two groups. This provides some evidence to suggest that the sample might not be totally unrepresentative of the total number of drug users known to the police. Furey and Browne highlight the difficulties they encountered in contacting potential respondents and point to a 123 per cent increase in homelessness between 1996 and 2002.
The difficulties encountered in accessing respondents for interview in this study show the obvious limitations of studies of this nature, where the police seek information about criminal behaviour from subjects they have arrested or known. This relates to a possible perception among respondents that by self-reporting criminal behaviour they risk exposing themselves to possible incrimination. Keogh, for example, encountered difficulties in acquiring specific information from respondents, particularly concerning their participation in violent criminal behaviour. Furey and Browne suggest that a possible reason for the reluctance among drug users to participate in their survey may have been related to a perceived deterioration in relations between the Gardaí and drug users since 1997, which, the authors contend, may have occurred as a consequence of a number of policing operations targeted at drug users.
Another methodological issue relates to the use of Garda-recorded crime statistics. In order to assist them in identifying known drug users and to establish the relationship between opiate use and crime, the two studies relied on different data sources. Keogh relied on manual data and an earlier Garda computer system, while Furey and Browne utilised the new Garda Síochána PULSE system. The recent minority report of the Expert Group on Crime Statistics has highlighted major concerns in relation to the operation of this data system and also about earlier crime-recording practices.3
Despite these shortcomings, the Furey and Browne study provides useful and recent information about a hard-to-reach population.
1. Furey M and Browne C (2004) Opiate use and related criminal activity in Ireland 2000 and 2001. Dublin: Garda Síochána Research Unit.
2. Keogh E (1997) Illicit drug use & related criminal activity in the Dublin Metropolitan Area. Dublin: An Garda Síochána.
3. Expert Group on Crime Statistics (2004) Minority report. Dublin: Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform.
|Issue Title:||Issue 12, December 2004|
|Page Range:||pp. 3-4|
|Publisher:||Health Research Board|
|Accession Number:||HRB (Available)|
|Subjects:||MM-MO Crime and law > Justice system > Law enforcement agency > Police (Garda)|
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland
MM-MO Crime and law > Crime > Drugs and alcohol related crime
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