Drug-related violence in the UK

Dame Carol Black's Review of Drugs analyses drug-related violence in the UK.

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Drug-related violence

This is the fourth in a series of posts based on perhaps the most important drug-related report of the current century, Dame Carol Black’s Review of Drugs . Today’s post looks at the section from that report dedicated to drug-related violence within the UK.

Dame Carol starts by listing the three main types of drug-related violence categorised in the research:

Psychopharmacological violence

Defined as violence committed by drug users whilst under the psychoactive influence of drugs. Stimulants such as crack are more likely to be related to violent behaviour.

Economic-compulsive violence

This category focuses on the violence committed by drug users in order to fund their drug habit, for example during the course of robberies or burglaries.

Systemic violence.

This is the category of violence committed by drug dealers to protect reputation, profits and territory, as they have no legal means to settle disputes. Systemic violence is usually responsible for sudden increases in serious violence. Between 2013-15 and 2016-18, there has been a large increase in homicides involving known drug dealers, although the number of homicides involving drug users remains greater.

The Review goes on to highlight three related changes in the drugs market which are likely to have driven the increase in drug-related violence since 2014:

  1. The increased prevalence of crack cocaine use
  2. The expansion of county lines activity
  3. The increasing involvement of young people and urban street gangs.

Dame Carol’s analysis is that around half of the increase in homicides between 2013/14 and 2017/18 is due to cases involving drug dealers or drug users or a drug-related motive. She is, though, careful to caution that there are also a number of other factors unrelated to drugs driving the increase in serious violence.

Increased prevalence of crack

Dame Carol focuses on the increase in the number of people using crack cocaine as a possible key factor in the increase in violence. She notes that as new crack users began to emerge, drug related homicides began to rise a year later. The key points of her analysis are:

  • As well as increased use of crack, data from police forces on OCGs indicates that there has been an increase in OCGs supplying crack. The proportion of drugs groups who supply crack has increased from 25% in 2015 to 36% in 2019.
  • This has mainly involved OCGs supplying heroin also beginning to supply crack, a trend which is also reflected in treatment data, with increasing use of both heroin and crack together.
  • Drug markets which involve crack cocaine tend to be more violent than drug markets not involving crack. The increased prevalence of OCGs supplying crack is therefore likely to have contributed to the overall increase in drug related violence.

County Lines

Dame Carol looks closely at the influence of the County Lines approach to drug dealing:

  • Evidence from recent government research and academic studies finds that county lines groups are more violent than local groups who previously controlled drug markets in county towns. The National Crime Agency also regularly document the violence associated with county lines groups in their annual reporting.
  • County lines groups may commit violence in order to establish their reputation in the new market in response to competition from local drug dealers. They may also use violence during the exploitation of young drug runners or vulnerable drug users.
  • As county lines is not a specific crime type or drug type, systematic data on these groups and their use of violence is limited, although the regular collection of information.

Dame Carol concludes her appraisal of drug-related violence by noting its concentration in London with a greater (and growing) proportion of homicides and stabbings being committed in the Capital.

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