Understanding drug markets: results of the MARSTUP study
The MARSTUP study is an interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers in the areas of public health, social sciences and forensic sciences. The goal of the project is to describe and understand the size and functioning of a local drugs markets by focusing on four areas: 1) the products available (molecules, cutting agents, packaging, prices, discounts, etc.) 2) the quantities distributed and used 3) the structure and functioning of the market 4) the overall turnover and the incomes.
The study took place in the canton de Vaud, a region of French speaking Switzerland with about 800’000 inhabitants. Three sub-markets were studied during about one year each: opioids, stimulants and cannabinoids. The data included a large number of qualitative interviews with drug users, dealers, law enforcement officers and social workers, the analysis of judicial decisions, of residues of used syringes, of wastewater samples and of police seizures, as well as surveys with different user groups.
The study showed for example that the price and (bad) quality of heroin was quite predictable but that the situation was very different with cocaine. The latter also represented about three quarters of the financial turnover and of the revenues of all pills & powder markets taken together. Traffickers also had very different behaviors with Albanian heroin traffickers working mostly through small companies while West African cocaine traffickers worked freelance within large networks and local ecstasy traffickers more as independent business players. In many ways, the size and structure of the markets were very heterogeneous.
The presentation will review the main findings of the three-year project highlighting these differences between submarkets both in terms of size and value and in terms of structure and functioning. It will also explore the strengths of local drugs market studies, notably the availability of much more focused data than in studies covering broader national and international markets as well as the possibility to influence local drug policy debates by undoing some of the main misconceptions about the size and functioning of drugs markets. Also highlighted will be some of the lessons learned and the difficulties experienced during the MARSTUP project