Retail Methamphetamine Markets in New York City
Team: Travis Wendel (PI), Bilal Khan, Ric Curtis, Kirk Dombrowski
June 2007-December 2010 NIJ 2007-IJ-CX-0110 / NIH/NIDA R21 DA024357-01 (jointly funded; $474,000)
Using Respondent Driven Sampling, this study piloted an innovative research design mixing qualitative and quantitative data collection methods, and social network analysis, that addresses a gap in information on retail methamphetamine markets and the role of illicit drug markets in consumption. Based on a sample of 132 methamphetamine users, buyers and sellers in New York City (NYC), findings describe a bifurcated market defined by differences in sexual identity, drug use behaviors, social network characteristics, and drug market behaviors. The larger sub-market is a closed market related to a sexual network of men who have sex with men (MSM) where methamphetamine (referred to as “tina”) is used as a sex drug. The smaller submarket is a less-closed market not denominated by sexual identity where methamphetamine (referred to as “crank,” “speed,” or “crystal meth”) overlaps with powder and crack cocaine markets. Participants in the MSM submarket viewed “tina” as very different from cocaine, due to what they characterized as the drug’s intense sexual effects, whereas participants in the smaller non-sexual-identity-denominated submarket saw “crystal meth” as a cost-effective alternative to cocaine. While majorities of participants in all subpopulations studied reported that their use of methamphetamine primarily centered on sex, almost all (91%) MSM reported this. Many MSM reported that their sexuality had become indistinguishable from their drug use. MSM had denser patterns of social network ties and many more sex partners than other subpopulations. MSM market participants reported higher prices for the drug, which may be an indication that they are accessing purer forms of methamphetamine. Participants were more willing to discuss accessing or purchasing methamphetamine than they were to discuss providing or selling the drug, although all indications are that most market participants do both.
Compared with the sometimes highly organized markets that have existed for other illegal drugs (e.g., heroin, cocaine, marijuana), retail methamphetamine markets have remained, by contrast, relatively primitive in their social and technical organization, and distinct patterns of drug use emerged as an outcome of interactions between drug providers and members of their social networks. In this case, those with less structurally advantageous positions within the network must depend on better-positioned network contacts to supply them with methamphetamine. Findings from the study indicate that the most striking characteristic of the methamphetamine market in New York City is the extent of the secondary market. Study data suggests this large secondary market has developed because of “bottlenecks” in the chain of distribution, which may be the outcome of the inconsistent supply of methamphetamine available in New York City. Participants reported essentially no violence in connection with methamphetamine markets in NYC. Participants have a lifetime total of 13 methamphetamine possession arrests for the sample of 132; none has ever been arrested for methamphetamine distribution. Study findings may be useful to practitioners, policy-makers and researchers in fields including law enforcement, criminal justice, and public health and substance abuse treatment.