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The Relationship between Drugs and Crime

Info: 12300 words (49 pages) Dissertation
Published: 21st Oct 2021

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Tagged: CriminologyHealth

Drugs: their use, misuse and connections with crime

In this dissertation I would like to argue that the study of crime and drug use is complex. There are a number of diverse factors that lead people to misuse drugs; these are a mixture of social, psychological and economic factors. Age and gender are significant statistically but insufficient research has been carried out to explore these issues fully. In this dissertation we will consider how people acquire a physical and psychological dependence on drugs.

We will look at the pressure that can be placed upon susceptible individuals by dysfunctional families and peer pressure. Other factors that will be explored are whether personality traits or hereditary factors play a significant role in drug misuse and any consequent criminal behaviour.

It is also clear that there is a correlation between crime and drug taking but again this link is not clear-cut. It will be necessary to consider if there are factors that predispose people to deviant behaviour and drug misuse or if one factor leads to another, and if so in what direction. We will consider at some length what is being done to ‘police’ drug crime and conclude that although much is being done it is a difficult and growing area, needing the intervention of specialised crime agencies, such as the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

We will conclude by considering that a great deal more research needs to be done to help understand this complex issue but that there are a number of areas where useful investments could be made. The first is in the provision of more skilled people to act as drugs counsellors, in order to help lower demand for drugs; the second is to co-operate with international bodies in forming policy to fight the global drugs business and co-operate internationally with enforcement agencies; the third is for enforcement agencies in this country to act in partnership with each other and outside agencies to help disrupt the supply of drugs by removing its supplier and their money and reducing demand by helping drug-users to fight their addiction. Only when all these measures are acted upon will any significant headway be made in the ‘war on drugs’.


Before we embark on our explorations, I would like to define how I will use the term drugs in this dissertation; I intend to define drugs as psychoactive drugs; this is any chemical that ‘alters perceptions and behaviour by changing conscious awareness’. However, I will exclude recreational drugs that are accepted by society, particularly alcohol. The reason for this is to enable me to achieve a tightly focused argument within the limits of the word count.

There is a great deal of research on alcohol abuse; much of it mirrors the misuse of other drugs, however, there are some significant differences, which would broaden out the argument too much. In this dissertation we will restrict ourselves to drugs that are outside of society’s approval.

The drugs we will consider in this work fall into four categories: depressants, stimulants, opiates and hallucinogens. The depressants include alcohol, barbiturates and solvents. Stimulants work by increasing the transmission of nerve impulses in the brain; they include cocaine, MDMA (better known as ‘ecstasy’), and amphetamines. The next group of drugs, opiates have been known since the time of the ancient Sumerians; in 4000BC they named the plant that produced resin from its unripe seedpods, the poppy. From this resin come the opiate drugs.

These depress neural functioning, suppress physical sensation and responses to stimulation, which is why the codeine and morphine versions of this drug are used as substantial painkillers. Hallucinogens are the final group and contain LSD, PCP and cannabis.

In this dissertation, once we have considered what leads initially to drug use and misuse, we will look at the link between drugs and crime. I have defined above what I mean by drugs, I’d now like to define what mean by crime. Such a definition is not easy to establish.

There is perceivable difference between the definition made by a research psychologist and a lawyer; one has a highly conceptualised definition, the other a legal one. In this dissertation, I will use Glen Walters definition of crime. In his book Drugs and Crime in Lifestyle Perspective, he defines it as ‘a rule breaking behaviour that, if known to legal authorities, would result in the rule breaker’s being charged with a criminal offence punishable by law’.

Size of drug problem

It is not an easy task to accurately record how many people take these forms of drugs on a regular basis. A National Survey on Drug Use and Health, undertaken in the United States in 2003, revealed that an estimated 3.7 million people had used heroin at some point in their life. It also revealed that 119,000 had used heroin in the month before the survey. It is perhaps encouraging that the British Crime Survey reveals that drug taking in this country amongst 16 to 24 years olds has decreased since 1998, although it has increased in people form 16to 59.

A United Nations report, published in 2005, estimated that 200million people, or approximately 5% of the world’s population, aged15-64, have used drugs in the last year. Whichever figure is correct, the number of people who abuse drugs is large.

In terms of the criminal side of crime, this is an increasingly difficult problem to deal with. The illegal market for drugs is immense, which attracts the attention of large organised crime groups. It is likely that dealing with this problem will be a major part of the work done by the new Serious and Organised Crime Agency. A major area that will need to be looked at is how to disrupt the flow of drugs into the country; this will be a complex undertaking. Using Cocaine as an example, the drug originates in Latin America, principally Columbia.

Its then taken first to a secondary country such as Spain, Portugal or West Africa, and finally funnelled into the UK via France, Belgium or the Netherlands. Although, Jamaica, the Caribbean Island closest to Latin America, which also has a significant immigrant community in England, provides a more direct route into this country for drugs. Clearly, this means that the Immigration and Customs and Excise departments also have an important part to play in policing this ‘industry’.

The structure of the argument

In chapter one we will look at the physical, psychological and environmental factors that lead to addiction of abusive substances. In chapter two I will consider whether there is a link between addiction and crime; we will also consider the implications of the illegal drugs market on policing. In chapter three I will discuss the prevention strategies that exist. Finally, I will conclude by explaining that although it is possible to come to some conclusions in our study, it is difficult to come to a definitive conclusion due to the amount of research material and its complex and often contradictory nature.

Chapter 1: The road to drug use and misuse


In this chapter we will consider the factors that lead to drug use and misuse. We will consider how attitudes in general concerning drug use have changed and how this has led to a greater acceptance of taking medication. We will also consider the psychological factors that could contribute to a person first falling prey to drug use.

There is evidence that socioeconomic factors may be significant and we will explore this idea; we will include a consideration of the increasingly sophisticated ‘marketing’ methods used by the sellers of illegal drugs. Finally, we will conclude that although there is a great deal of information on the subject of why people begin taking drugs we will see that it is very difficult to draw a conclusion from the information available. We cannot offer conclusions only suppositions.

Changing attitudes to drugs

People have been using drugs for a great deal longer than it has been considered a problem. Tammy Salah suggests that drug use has been prevalent since ancient times (Salah, p6). However, significant major changes have occurred in the pattern of drug taking in the last four decades. In the 1950s very few people indulged in any form of drug, other than alcohol or cigarettes, however, this situation has gradually changed until we have become a drug using culture.

A number of reasons have been suggested for this change. Some have suggested that the increase in taking drugs for medicinal purposes altered people’s general attitude towards taking drugs; as they acquired the perception that a pill could cure physical problems and mental illness, they accepted the possibility that a pill could be used to counter other problems; others advocated the idea that in the 1960sand 70s people, particularly Americans, were exploring new life-styles, many had an increased amount of leisure time and looked for new activities to fill them, one of those ways to fill the extra hours waste recreational use of drugs.

Roads to addiction

This increase in drug abuse led to problems with addiction as people acquired a physical dependence on these substances. Gradually, after taking the drug for some time, a person acquired a tolerance, so needed more and more of it to achieve the same effect. They also reached a stage where cessation of the drug in the system led to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. At this stage they are said to have acquired physical dependency on the drug.

However, this is not the only form of dependence that can arise; it is also possible to acquire a psychological dependence. This can occur particularly if a drug is used to reduce anxiety; even though no physical dependence occurs, the feeling of being without anxiety is addictive, which makes the drug addictive for psychological reasons.

Dependence on alcohol can begin this way, the drink can acquire appositive reinforcement if it used to reduce stress, however, the more it is used the more the dependence becomes a physiological one. This is one of the most popular contemporary views of why humans self-administer potentially lethal drugs. It is believed that these chemicals activate the reinforcement system in the brain. Other natural-enforcers such as food, water, sex etc. also activate this system.

It is possible to place drug users into at least two categories. One group of drug users take drugs for the effects they have on the senses; this group has been described as ‘novelty seekers’; the other group uses drugs to help them cope with other problems, they use drugs ‘as if they are anti-anxiety or anti-depressant substances’. One could conclude that this is the explanation for the apparent plethora of contradictory information as it would be counterintuitive to suggest that the same factors lead to these two models.

Bio psychologists have done some of the most recent research into the development of an addiction. Their work is interesting because it is admix of physical and psychological scientific methods. It is important to consider their work, as it could have a significant effect on treatment and preventative programmes for the misuse of drugs. An article that appeared in the journal, Addiction, in 2001 suggests that addicts are not motivated to take drugs for the pleasure they provide, or the desire to avoid the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, but because once drugs have been used the person develops changes in the part of the brain that render the ‘rewards systems’ and it becomes hypersensitive.

These are not the parts of the brain that deal with pleasure or the euphoric effects of drugs but a subcomponent of reward; the study renamed them incentive salience or ‘wanting’. This leads the drug addict to develop compulsive behaviours in relation to drug-seeking. The researchers suggest that this sensitization leaves addicts susceptible to relapse long after they discontinue their drug use. It is also clear that some people become sensitised very quickly but others much more slowly. Another interesting aspect of this research is that the self-administration experience plays a significant part in the process, so that if the context is repeated in the future, even after drug misuse has ceased, the person will experience the compulsion to take the drug. This can happen years after the person has ceased to take drugs.

A number of interesting facts resulted from this study that could affect our understanding and treatment of drug misuse. One interesting factor is that it is not saying that drug addiction is caused by chemical changes in the brain, what it is saying is that environmental factors have an equally significant effect as pharmacological ones. This factor is important as it has an effect on how to treat addiction. Another interesting factor revealed is that the brain processes involved in addiction are those that determine wanting not pleasure.

This makes nonsense of the theory that the reinforcing factor connected to drugs is pleasure; drugs can become addictive in the absence of pleasure at taking them. This means that an unconscious motivational process can promote the act of taking a drug; this would explain why addicts, who report they are ‘miserable, that [their] life is in ruins, and that even the drug is not that great anymore’ are still ‘bewildered by the intensity of their compulsive behaviour’. However, it is interesting to note that even the authors of this study recommend caution; they accept that studies carried out on animals may not give the same results in human addicts.

A great deal of interest has been shown by researchers concerning what, if any, personality characteristics make an individual more susceptible to become addicted to drugs. No individual personality type has been shown to predispose a person to drug misuse; however, people who score highly in tests for social conformity are less apt to misuse drugs. On the other hand, those who as children were rated by their class-mates as being impulsive, inconsiderate, lacking in ambition, with poor work habits, as adults were more likely to smoke, drink alcohol or take drugs than children not described as having those characteristics.

Glen Walters concurs with this conclusion. He suggests the only positive evidence he has seen relates to some forms of early anti-social behaviour that affect a person’s future chance of abusing drugs and that this isn’t enough to provide a conclusive link. However, as already mentioned one must exercise caution concerning the conclusions reached from these studies as most of this research has been conducted on people with pre-existing problems, so one cannot be entirely certain that the characteristic did not result from the addiction rather tamper-date it.

An obvious area to consider, particularly bearing in mind that the majority of drug misuse is done by the young, is the influence of, and relationship with parents. A study by Baer and Corridor in 1974suggested that children whose parents had showed little interest in them, or had used excessive physical punishment during their early childhood, were more likely to misuse drugs. Glen Walters confirms this when he quotes studies that reveal children who suffered parental rejection, either physical or mental, are more likely to indulge in deviant behaviour, including drug abuse.

He suggests that a lack of attachment leads to an inability to fully ‘empathize with and relate to others’. Another study undertaken in 1972 revealed that people from home with conservative, traditional values were less likely to misuse drugs, than those from a more permissive and liberal home. However, it is not necessarily the parent’s values that contributed to the misuse of drugs but the potentially easier access to them. Ironically, coming from a ‘disrupted’ family (one where divorce or death has interrupted ‘traditional’ family life) does not seem to be factor in drug abuse in individuals.

Parents are not the only group to have a significant influence, person’s peers can be equally important as an encouragement to misuse. The more substances a person misuses, the more friends they are likely to have who misuse substances themselves. However, again, interpretation of this can be problematic. It is difficult to know if these people have more friends who misuse because they have influenced them, or that the explanation is that they prefer to socialise with people with ‘pastimes’ most like their own.

Walters concurs that although it appears that people are strongly influenced by their peers, it is difficult to provide evidence to confirm this conclusion. It is also important to bear in mind that although some people may be affected by the relationship with their parents (or lack of it) and influenced by their peers to act in a delinquent manner, the majority of people, under these circumstances, do not become delinquent or drug abusers, so these reasons are not sufficient in themselves to explain this anomaly.

There are many links between deprivation, social exclusion and drug misuse. Amongst the factors that predispose someone to misuse drugs: the use of legal drugs in early life, school non-attendance, unemployment, history of public care, parent criminality and substance misuse, use of illegal recreational drugs. It is difficult to ignore the fact that ‘impoverished urban areas’ have higher rates of crime and drug abuse than more affluent areas.

It almost certainly comes as no surprise that drug abuse rates are higher in areas where drugs are easily available, generally run-down urban areas. It is not difficult to believe that bleak circumstances can lead people to seek ‘escape ‘through drugs. Crime is also highest in these areas and it is easy to jump to the conclusion that these are linked; however, this link cannot be directly proved.

The age of drug users is statistically significant, they are predominantly young and male, and may be getting younger. In the Home Office survey referred to above, arrestees who were drug users were more likely to be 25 and over, however, amongst men the numbers testing positive in the 20-24 age group was seen to be increasing significantly over the period of the research. This finding is repeated in the British Crime Survey.

This demographic trend is also seen in the USA. Survey in 2003 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse recorded that in the previous year 314,000 people had used heroin; of that number the largest group were over 26, however, the same report recorded that from1995 to 2002 the number of new users varied each year from 121,000 to164,000 and of these 75% were 18 or over. More worryingly, the American survey recorded significant and stable levels of heroin abuse amongst school age children. The However, drug use seems to ‘peak’ at the age of 20.

As we have seen, most of the users of heroin in the American survey were young men. The gender balance amongst drug users in England is also predominantly male, however, things could be changing, a Home Office crime survey showed a higher proportion of women testing positive for opiates than men – 43% of women arrestees compared to 34% of men. Although the British Crime Survey suggests that the number of women taking drugs has stabilised. Tam Stewart suggests that their partners often introduce women drug users to drugs; they take them to ‘please’ their man.

It has been argued that drugs have been ‘radicalized’ and that the perception is that black men are more likely to be offenders, and, therefore, more likely to be stopped by the police, than white men. It’s true that cannabis is widely used by the Caribbean community. However, much lower proportions of black men take heroin.

The question that hasn’t been raised thus far is the question of hereditary. Glen Walters reports that a number of research papers, using data from family, twin and adoption studies, have been studied that seem to suggest that there is a genetic link in drug abuse. However, he concedes that these studies are difficult to interpret because it is difficult to take into account whether environmental influences have made a bigger impact than genetics. Salah also concludes that genetics may be a factor but that external and internal stimuli are more likely to account for drug use and abuse.

Tam Stewart challenges all these explanations of what makes someone abuse drugs. She claims, ‘Heroin respects no barriers of class, race, religion or profession. There are junkies of 14 and 40’. She concedes that the majority of drug users come from poor and inadequate backgrounds; however, the fact that there are abusers from all categories suggests that poverty and inadequate family background cannot be the whole explanation. She suggests that one of the initial factors for people who take drugs is curiosity.

Another factor that must be taken into account is that drug sellers are becoming more sophisticated in their marketing techniques and use disturbing methods of introducing people to the misuse of drugs. A ‘traditional’ method, bearing in mind drugs addictive qualities, was for street sellers to give ‘free samples’ to people who had previously never used illegal drugs. They soon became addicted to the substances and the seller had created a new buyer for his goods. However, with the increasing use of the Internet new ways of selling and marketing products have arisen. Buying a drug over the net is a much ‘easier ‘route into the drug scene, particularly for the socially shy and/or conservative middle-class teenager; the drugs are just as addictive but seem almost ‘legitimate’ when bought in the same way they buy their books and music CDs.

However, a person acquires an addiction to drugs, it is clear that when they do it is not just a personal problem but also a societal one. We’ve looked at some of the reasons that may predispose someone to use and misuse drugs. In the next chapter we will consider what, if any, links there are between drug misuse and crime.

Chapter 2: The links between drugs and crime


Numerous studies have shown a link between drug abuse and crime; there are high crime rates amongst drug abusers and high drug-use rates among offenders. In this chapter we will consider the evidence that suggests link between drug misuse and crime. We will see how there is a great deal of evidence that shows a correlation but a link showing exactly how the two factors are related is much harder to find. We will also consider the types of crime most related to this problem and consider ways that have been used to tackle the problem.

Causal links

Earlier in this dissertation we have discussed how drugs are addictive and it has been suggested that it is this addiction that leads to crime. Drug use leads to ‘compulsive drug seeking’ and use. This compulsion fuels three types of drug related crime: crimes of supply, crimes committed to obtain money to buy drugs, or where the effects of drugs lead the user to act in a criminal way, for example dangerous driving or acts of aggression.

The suggested theories to understand why people take drugs also falls into three categories: the moral model; the disease model and the behavioural model. There is statistical evidence of a link between drug use and crime. An on-going survey financed by the Home Office records the link between the misuse of drugs and offending. During the study 3,064 arrestees were interviewed and tested for drug use at eight police custody suites in England and Wales. This was repeated at the same sites two years later.

Approximately 50% of those arrested were included in the study; juveniles and those arrested for alcohol related offences were excluded. The majority of those interviewed were white males and 90% of these agreed to undergo urinalysis. Urinalysis can detect drug use over the previous few days; in this study they were tested for six types of drugs were tested: Cannabis, opiates (including heroin), cocaine(including crack), benzodiazepines, amphetamines and methadone. Clearly these percentages are significant.

A major finding of the research was that 65% of those arrested tested positive for drugs, around a third tested positive for opiates and/or Cocaine; less than 10% were positive for amphetamines and just under50% had injected heroin. Clearly this reveals a link between drugs and crime but on this alone they cannot be said to cause crime. During the interviews, however, around 90% of those who tested positive for class ‘A’ drugs reported they had committed property crimes as a result of their addiction in the last twelve months.

Research carried out in other countries show similar findings. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the US, 50% of the inmates in US prisons in 1991divulged that they had used illegal drugs in the month prior to their arrest and 30% admitted that they were under the influence of an illicit drug when they committed their offence. An interesting finding is that offenders who abuse both illegal drugs and alcohol commit more criminal activities that those who only abuse an illegal drug. It is hard not to conclude that criminal activity is linked to drug taking.

There are no clear causal links, however, between drugs and crime, despite much research on the subject that has shown that there are links between drugs and offending. A briefing paper for the Criminal Justice Social Work Development Centre for Scotland argues that ‘hanging around’ with those that do risky things, may ‘encourage or require the passage into various forms of crime to generate funds for purchasing drugs’. The paper argues that a further problem is that drug misuse leads to further financial and social difficulties; these in themselves generate more crime. A survey done amongst a Scottish young offender’s institution revealed that 95% of its inhabitants admitted taking illegal drugs. Yet again this Scottish survey does not give satisfactory explanation for this result.

It has been suggested that there are two explanations for this apparent correlation between crime and drug abuse. The first suggests that drug use adversely affects a person’s ‘mood, judgement and self-control’; the second we’ve already mentioned, that is that the high cost of drugs leads the user to commit ‘economically oriented crime’. However, even these explanations are not entirely satisfactory.

In the case of the first it is true that drugs can affect people in the way mentioned, however, not all people who take drugs experience these effects uniformly; second not everyone who takes drugs and experiences these symptoms commit crimes; therefore it is not unreasonable to argue that another factor must be involved. The second argument also holds true for the idea that the need to keep oneself supplied with drugs leads to crime.

Glenn Walters tries to resolve this conundrum with his ‘lifestyle theory of human decision’. The three ‘Cs’ defines life styles: conditions, choice and cognition. In this theory he concludes that drug abuse and criminal activity are interrelated lifestyles.

Walters believes that conditions do not cause drug abuse or crime directly but they influence behaviour by increasing or decreasing a person’s options in life. Walters concludes that choice is a very important explanation of the link between drugs and crime; criminal drug users behave in the way they do because they have made a rational choice that it is in their best interest to do so. Although he does not conclude that thesis the only explanation.

It is clear from current research that young offenders have particularly high risk for developing ‘problematic drug use’, this is partly due to their use of class ‘A’ substances and to taking drugs intravenously. A Home Office survey, published in 2004, records that injecting drugs escalates both the health risks to the user and the social problems that go along with it. Amongst the arrestees studied for this report, around 65% used heroin and these were the most persistent offenders.

Interestingly, one study in the US has suggested that there is no real correlation between drugs and crime. It is argued that because drug abuse and crime are not evenly spread across age groups, it is possible that they are not directly connected. There are a number of potential arguments for this.

Firstly, is that it is possible drugs and crime follow a similar but coincidental age progression; secondly, it is possible that that these problems arise because of an underlying pattern of general deviancy; a final explanation is that the statistics show that the supposed link is actually a manifestation of low self-control making the person more liable to contravene social norms. However, none of these explanations are verified by research. Michael Hough in his review of drug related literature for the Home Office suggests that a distinction should be made between drug users and people with a heavy dependency, it is the latter group that is most likely to be involved in crime.

Policing the problem

Regardless of the causal links between drugs and crime, it undoubtedly causes major problems for the police service, enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. A Home Office report published in 2003 on the subject of ‘Crack’ begins by pointing out that ‘uncontrolled crack markets have a propensity for violence and intimidation that affects whole communities’. The report goes on to suggest that this problem haste be dealt with on two fronts: the supply of drugs to the drug addict has to be cut off and the demand for them reduced.

During the last decade much work has been done in partnerships between the police another agencies, as these are considered the most successful ways to deal with the problem. These strategies aimed at reducing the demand for drugs will be discussed in the next chapter; in this section we will consider the response of law enforcement agencies.

It is necessary at this point to consider in more detail what types of crime is committed by people misusing drugs. Much drug-connected crimes non-violent, more concerned with acquiring the money to fund the misuser’s addiction; these would include crimes such as theft, forgery or prostitution. However, CJSW’s briefing paper suggests that drug’s misuse can lead to violent crime in one of two ways; these are, (1) the effects of the drug can lead to aggressive behaviour, and, (2) violence can be used when committing the acquisitive crimes mentioned above.

The paper makes it clear that these links are very much dependent on what type of drug is being abused. A study from the United States suggests that cocaine, particularly in the form of crack, can lead to violence, as can the use of barbiturates and amphetamines. However, overwhelming evidence suggests that the mostly likely addictive substance that will lead to violent outbursts from the abuser is alcohol.

The area that would produce the best ‘return for money’ would be to stop the arrival of drugs into the country in the first place. The raw ingredients for most traditional drugs are not produced in this country; therefore, they have to be imported from abroad. Increasingly, the enforcement agencies in this country are assisting the international fight against drugs. Government is also helping address these issues, offering to help disrupt the opium harvest in countries like Afghanistan.

The new SOCA has announced plans to have agents stationed abroad to assist in this disruption. Clearly, this is a major issue that requires serious measures. Much of the response to drug motivated crime has been met with moral outrage and dealt with accordingly; we will look at this in more depth later in the dissertation.

The drugs industry is large and profitable, which is what makes it necessary to respond to this problem from a number of different appropriate directions. An article in the Economist published in 2001,states that ‘if only it were legitimate, there would be much to admire about the drugs industry’.

The article goes on to state that ‘it is…highly profitable. It produces goods for a small fraction of the price its customers are willing to pay…[and] it has skilfully taken advantage of globalisation, deftly responding to changing markets and transports routes.’ The article goes on to point out that the drugs industry produces work for some of the world’s poorest countries, and the ‘rich world’s minorities and unskilled.’ Drugs are a business, Avery successful but anomalous one.

The profitability of the drugs business must not be underestimated, as the potentially huge rewards justify the risky proactive behaviour. On the streets of the US a kilo of heroin sells for @$290,000, the price of a Rolls Royce car. It has been estimated that the revenue of the global drugs industry is analogous with Coca-Cola’s world revenues.

The United Nation’s Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention put the profits from the illegal drugs industry as higher than that of petroleum. Even if this figure is an exaggeration, the conservative figure places the trade on the same level as the tobacco or alcohol trade, both highly successful and profitable industries. With an industry this big it is clear that destroying its infrastructure is necessary but impossible task.

It is clear that statistically the US is an extremely lucrative market. The official estimate of retail drug sales is $60 billion dollars. The Economist believes European sales are almost as great. Most of the world’s heroin sales occur in Pakistan, Thailand, Iran and China, however, prices in these countries are so low they barely reach $10billion. Unfortunately, this situation has engendered a great deal of moral outrage, however, this cannot be considered a good basis for policy.

Drugs are brought into the country by a number of methods. Some are shipped in through ports such as Dover and Harwich; others arrive in small boats in an attempt to avoid the increasingly sophisticated methods used by Customs and Excise to detect drugs at the major ports. Another method of getting drugs into the country is by using couriers, who ingest condoms filled with the illegal substance.

Some are quite literally ‘delivered’ by the postal system. Once in the country, middleman, who subsequently passes it on to the dealer on the street, divides the drugs into smaller units. Sometimes the middleman and the street dealer are one and the same person, especially with drug imports from Jamaica. These level 2 crimes are dealt with by local police forces co-operating with SOCA.

However, producing and selling the drugs are not the only crimes associated with the drugs trade; and stopping the movement of drugs not the only front that can be policed. The money produced by has to be ‘laundered’ in an attempt to divert attention from its original production method. Again, Jamaica and the other Caribbean Islands are important; these islands have well developed offshore banking systems and bank secrecy laws that make them ideal for money laundering. In2000, the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force, which was set up to monitor and take action against this aspect of the drugs trade, maintained that $60 billion from the drugs trade and organised crime are laundered in the Caribbean every years.

‘Policing’ this aspect of the trade must be done on an international basis. It requires large numbers of people with specific and complex skills. Britain contributes to this international effort in many ways, including signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Jamaican government on the 22 March 2002. As part of that treaty, Britain gave aid of £10 million to the Jamaican Constabulary Force for training and restructuring.

What is being done once the drugs reach this country? A 2002 review bayou admits that the police service is weak when dealing with the middle markets; a problem reiterated in the HMIC’s ‘Closing the Gap ‘report on level 2 crime throughout Britain. HM Inspector of Constabularies, Denis O’Conner, former Chief Constable of Surry, produced this report in 2005, which outlined just how much more work was needed at this crime level, however, he concedes that this is one of the least weak areas when looking at levels of the crime throughout all 43 county police forces..

This middle-market in the drugs supply chain is very important, as it is a large sector of the drugs industry. An ACPO review reports that endeavours are being made to improve this situation; an experiment in the Midlands, funded by government is an attempt to police drugs more effectively; this experiment involved ‘collaborative intelligence-led working arrangement across force boundaries’; although at the time of the publication of the review this experiment was yet to be completed, it was felt that it had already made an impact on the middle market suppliers. Operation Pagoda, carried out by Cheshire Police in2003-2004, provided valuable lessons on how to tackle this level of the drugs distribution chain. Again it was seen that working closely with partner agencies is important, as is careful intelligence gathering.

We have already mentioned what is being done to police the drug trade before and as it comes into the country, however, once here there are a number of options available to disrupt the trade. One of the most successful methods is high profile policing in areas known to be major points of contacts for drugs dealers and their customers.

This sounds simple but is not. It requires a great deal of high quality intelligence as to where drug selling is taking place, in order to know the best place to be most visible. Once this is known then police officers can make their presence known on the street and CCTV cameras can be visibly and strategically placed. Clearly these methods won’t stop the trade but they can cause considerable disruption.

The sale of drugs at street level is done in a number of ways; some drugs are quite literally sold on the street by dealers, however, other dealers work from business or residential addresses, occasionally from cars. Although these dealers may be considered the ‘bottom’ of a chain of supply, which is best dealt with at an earlier point, it is still necessary to tackle street level dealing. It is this aspect of the drug trade that is most visible and, therefore, of concern to the public, raising their levels of fear of crime; however, it is also clear that disruption of supply is useful at any level. Such arrests can also supply intelligence about those further up the chain. It should also be noted that this level of dealing increases the acquisitive crimes committed in an areas, as addicts seek to fund their habit.

There have been a number of successful operations run by various police services to combat street level dealing. In Merseyside the problem of drug addiction and its associated crime has been rising steadily since the 1970s, with dealers using the M56 as a link with Liverpool. The problem in this area is focused on a number of socially deprived council estates, where drug dealing is very well established. Amulet-agency approach was decided on, called Operation Hawk, which provided enforcement by the police service in an attack on the drug supply; treatment, education and assurance being supplied by other bodies working with them in partnership. The initiative has produced large number of arrests, assets have been seized and the rates of acquisitive crime in the area have dropped significantly.

The implementation of the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) 2002 has helped increase the ‘war against drugs’ on another front. As mentioned the drugs industry produces large amounts of money, therefore, an assault on that money will be effective. A number of operations have been setup by enforcement agencies throughout the country to tackle this issue. Operation Airborne was a joint investigation between the Metropolitan Police and HM Revenue and Customs.

The group sought and acted upon intelligence that they shared between them, enhancing their ability to act against drug smuggling. The operation was successful in arresting drug smugglers, however, even more important was the recovery of assets; the criminal group were discovered to have an annual turnover of £7.6 million. £2 million was seized as part of the operation to arrest the drug smugglers and sellers. Operation Oregano in Lancashire was an equally successful operation, which seized £2.2 million in assets from one criminal individual. Clearly, the arrest of any individual engaging in crime connected to drugs is useful, however, attacking the assets has a more significant long-term effect.

A final strategy being used by enforcement agencies in their fight against these crimes is to use the media. They have begun to engage in social marketing techniques, such as those used against drunk-driving offences and domestic violence. It is seen that these campaigns can be used in a number of ways: one, to educate the public about the dangers of drug taking and, two, to encourage people to inform on those engaging in the trade. A third result is to help reassure the public that ‘something is being done’ about this form of crime.

Gun crime

One of the most worrying crimes associated very closely with the misuse of drugs is the increase of violent acts involving guns. As we have mentioned the drugs industry is a very lucrative one, often run by groups of organised criminals, who increasingly seek to protect their markets with the use of firearms. The majority of gun related violence and armed kidnappings in the Metropolitan Police area are directly related to the drug industry.

Growth of gang culture

Young adults are becoming increasingly active in selling drugs; often these youths do not take drugs themselves. This has been a growing trend in the US since the early nineties that is now evident in Britain. There are a number of reasons for this occurrence. In many cases drug sales are linked with ‘gangs’ and gangs are appealing because they provide an income (the proceeds of criminal activity) and status, which is otherwise absent from these young men’s lives.

These young men offer an even more difficult challenge for the criminal justice system. The link between gang membership and drug misuse in Britain is greater than in the US. One of the suggested explanations of the fact that drug sellers in gangs were less likely to be drug users is that it ‘clashes’ with the objectives of the group.

A recent phenomena in this country is the growth of gangs of fro-Caribbean men, often referred to as ‘hardies’; some of these men were born in this country, many have recently come to the country from Jamaica. These men involve themselves in selling sex and drugs in an organised manner. Their methods are often brutal and there is a high level of gun crime associated with these groups. It is clear that these men are introducing young girls to drugs and then to prostitution today for their new habit.


There is a strong correlation between drugs and prostitution. It has been suggested that there are two reasons for this. The first is that the need to pay for the drugs, which as the addiction becomes stronger and larger amounts of the drug are needed to have the same effects the amount needed to fund the habit increase exponentially. It is also clear that drugs help remove inhibitions, making an unpleasant activity palatable. An analysis of drug culture in the borough of Haringey in London in 2001 revealed that prostitutes were seen as the ‘front end ‘of the retail chain for crack, and were integral in the successful functioning of crack houses.

In order to tackle this type of crime, two factors need to be dealt with, the prostitute’s addiction to the drug and her life style. In Southampton the Royal South Hampshire Hospital has a Working Women’s Project aimed at helping prostitutes maintain their health.

Twice weekly there are dedicated sexual health clinic, run by women doctors, nurses and health workers, which the women can attend with any health problems; they run a late night outreach service that provides condoms, clean needles and a newsletter; they are also given self-defence training by a female instructor, specifically geared towards their needs. The project has worked with the Hampshire Constabulary, who setup Operation Trojan to tackle drug crime, to establish an ‘exit strategy’ for these women.

A number of initiatives have been tried to disrupt the work of prostitutes and their connections with crack houses. In the borough of Haringey the police decided to use Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs)on prostitutes to get them off the streets.

However, local government also took action; vulnerable areas have had gates installed and new fences erected, making it difficult for the prostitute and punter to find a location for their transaction; street lighting has been improved on roads, roundabouts, two local housing estates and a key road junction, again to remove areas of privacy; a traffic management scheme has been established to prevent ‘curb crawling’; and a local authority block of flats has had its access system upgraded and security cameras installed. These measures succeeded in reducing the levels of anxiety and fear of crime within the community. In this we can see that multi-agency work is most effective.

‘New’ drug crimes

A newly recognised crime associated with drug misuse is ‘drug-driving’. This particular crime seems to be associated with particular life-style, that is the young person who regularly goes ‘clubbing’. Research in Scotland has shown that 5% of 17-39 year olds had driven on a public road in the previous twelve months while over the drink-drive limit and another 5% while under the influence of recreational drug.

The survey goes further and pin-points young unmarried men between the ages of 20 and 24 as those most likely to drive while over the alcohol limit, however, those who drove while under the influence of a drug had the same profile with the addition of also being unemployed. A report in Manpower Motoring Magazine, April 2001 recording the results of a survey of their readers discovered 39% admitted to driving at least once a month while under the influence of recreational drugs. The CJWS briefing paper suggests that these pieces of research are signs of a growing problem.

Clearly there is a correlation between drugs and crime, however, it is equally clear that a great deal more research needs to be done before the causal links for this are found.

Chapter 3: Drug prevention strategies


Drugs became perceived as a social ‘problem’ in the late 1880s and the response to this was a moral outrage, worthy of the late Victorian period. From this early period drugs have been perceived as being the ‘gateway’ to violence and destructive of social ‘norms’; the reaction has been to rely on criminal sanctions. In this chapter we will consider what types of treatments are available for an offender and ask at what stage is it best to begin this treatment.

The idea of drug taking as a moral outrage means that every time a drug user takes or buys his/her drugs they are undermining law and the social order; the obvious response to this is to hold them criminally accountable. Sentences for ‘drug crime’ have increased in severity. In the US, studies have shown that in New York, California and the federal prison systems drug users make up the largest inmate group. In the federal prison system in 1990, 50% of the inmates were drug users. Society in the US and in this country are insistent that their politicians ‘do’ something about problems caused by drugs; so strong is this call that in the US this has been described as a ‘war on drugs’. However, it is not clear the punitive action is the best form of action.

Prison as a deterrent?

Jeffrey Fagan believes it has to be questioned if the deterrent effect of prison is at all successful. He suggests that although imprisonment serves to symbolise the moral outrage of society to someone transgressing societal norms, it is not the most useful response.

In a study of arrestees in the 1980s, Fagan discovers that, although those with the longest prison sentence had lower recidivism rates than shorter medium term sentences, those sentenced to probation had the lowest rates. Walters agrees that deterrence is not productive as it neither deters nor inhibits future illegal drug abuse. For a deterrent to work the potential criminal has to be able to assess his/her situation in considered manner.

Fagan points out that deterrence requires people to rationally calculate the ‘costs and benefits’ of crime to themselves, however, this is not always possible. Many drug users live in poor economic and social conditions in inner cities that ‘skew’ their ability to make the rational decision required to make imprisonment a successful sanction.

Or it could be argued that in an environment where there is little hope of ‘normal’ employment, selling drugs is the ‘rational’ choice, so the deterrent effects of criminal sanctions will depend on individual circumstances. Fagan suggests that the most value way of helping drug users to stop is by a complex process, requiring a change imperceptions of the self and management of social interaction. This is not always possible; drugs are addictive, mind altering and this affects the ability to think clearly.

Preventative measures

There is, however, evidence that reductions in re-offending can save significant amounts of money, therefore, it is worth looking into ways of pursuing this course of action. A briefing paper produced by the Criminal Justice Social Work Development Centre for Scotland, suggests that ‘the costs of criminal behaviour far outweighed the costs of treatment’.

It quotes a longitudinal study carried out for the Department of Health, which suggests community based interventions reduced re-offending rates by 20%, residentially based interventions were even better at 25%; it further suggests that this would lead to a saving of £5.2 million or, put more simply, for every £1 spent on prevention, £3 would be saved on the costs of victims and the criminal justice system. There are a number of times in the life of a drug abuser where intervention could take place. These are: interventions before sentence; community penalties instead of a prison sentence and interventions in prisons (Hough). I would like to consider these options in the next section.

‘Research has brought us to the conclusions that drug abuse is preventable behaviour and that addiction is an eminently treatable disease’ explained Dr Alan Lasher, Director of the National Institution Drug Abuse, to a US Senate Judiciary Committee in 2001. He continued that ‘we are seeing science, rather than ideology, intuition, or common sense, beginning to drive the national discourse on these issues’.

In a briefing paper published the same year, the Criminal Justice Social Work Centre for Scotland concurred with this view. The author states, ‘the development and delivery of effective and appropriate interventions are dependent on an understanding of the patterns of drug use and their relationships to health and social difficulties’. If time and money is to be spent wisely on treatment measures it is necessary to take a multi-disciplinary approach to research in order to produces large a body of useable knowledge as possible.

One result of this strategy is that there is an understanding that the conventional wisdom of striving for complete abstinence is the least cost-effective method of dealing with the problem. It suggests that reviews of existing research material reveal:

  • Medically supervised detoxification programmes are not as effective as maintenance programmes
  • Methadone maintenance programmes can both reduce illegal heroin use and the crimes associated with it
  • Therapeutic communities have high drop-out rates but that those who do stay the course do much better than comparison groups
  • Other types of structured counselling can also be useful, again if the client can be retained throughout the course of the treatment

Clearly it is worth considering each of these conclusions, particularly as they are all employed by various sections of the Criminal Justice system (CJS). The CJS use arrest referral schemes, drug treatment and testing, drugs abstinence orders and CARATs (counselling, assessment, referral, advice and through-care). Therefore, which if any of these methods are the most effective?

The primary aim of detoxification programmes is to aid the addicted person cope with the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms from ceasing to use opiate drugs. A secondary aim is to offer support to the person as they adjust to a drug-free state. Most authorities make it clear that thesis not a treatment for addiction. The treatment can be carried out inn- and out-patient facilities.

The treatment itself can take 48-72hours for the worst of the physical symptoms to dissipate, and they disappear completely within a fortnight. Unfortunately, this is not the end of the experience; once the initial physical symptoms subside there is a period of ‘abstinence syndrome’, which consists of a general malaise and opioid cravings. This treatment can help in a person’s treatment but alone it will not suffice.

Treatment with methadone, a drug that suppresses the withdrawal symptoms experienced by people who cease to take narcotic drugs, is common response. It also relieves the physical cravings that are familiar part of opiate addiction. Other drugs, such as Buprenorphine, are also used in a similar manner. However, again if this is used to ‘wean’ the drug taker off the drug but no further treatment is given, then it is likely that ultimately this strategy will be unsuccessful.

Therefore, if simply replacing the illegal drug with a substitute is not sufficient what else can be done? Many addicts also benefit from behavioural therapies, preferably alongside the medical treatment they are receiving. In the US two of the most useful therapies are Contingency management therapy and Cognitive-behavioural therapy. Contingency management employs a voucher system, where patients earn points for each negative drugs test they pass. The vouchers can be exchanges for items that encourage a healthy way of living.

This ‘reward’ approach to treatment is not common in Britain. Cognitive-behavioural therapy attempts to change the patient’s ideas and perceptions related to their life-style and expectations while addicted. This method is particularly popular and successful in Britain. It is possible that cultural difference between the two countries account for these different outcomes. The dual approach of chemical and behavioural therapy is supported by the study we discussed earlier in this dissertation that the chemical effects of the drug and environmental factors around its administration caused neural sensitivity. Both aspects that initially caused the drug taking must be tackled if there is to be any hope of success.

We discussed earlier that often in communities there is a partnership between a number of agencies that help ensure a multidirectional attack on abuse. The Drugs Committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers produced a review in April 2002. One of their main conclusions was that the police must attack this problem on two fronts: disruption of the supply and demand reduction.

The Blackpool Tower Project is police project that pursues the aim of demand reduction. The police, Probation service, the Crown Prosecution service and health workers provide a service ‘target’ drug offenders and all work together to resolve the many complex issues contributing to continuing abuse. The project has been operational since 2002; in that time crime has been reduced in the town by a significant amount. For instance house burglaries have reduced by 42%. Clearly more evidence that multidirectional effort produces significant results.

It is often claimed that dropout rates for drug prevention and treatment programmes are so large that the programmes are not cost-effective; however, research in the US suggests that this is not true. Lasher sites an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which shows that addiction treatments are as effective as treatments for other chronic disorders like asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes; he also quotes the article to claim that ‘drop-out’ rates from all four ‘disease’ treatments are the same. However, duel treatments are more successful than any single treatment.

The timing of treatment is also seen to be significant. A major proposal discussed in the CJSW briefing paper mentioned earlier is the need for young offenders to be assessed after arrest in the hope that prosecution can be avoided, rather than assessing the young person after conviction or their sentence has been served. It also suggests that ‘legal coercion seems to be an effective way of first getting drug abusers into treatment early, and, secondly, of keeping them there’.

An American survey makes the same point, treatments should ‘vary depending on the individual’ and stresses that another factor that was important to understand was the need to intervene as early as possible. Concentrating on formulating treatments that deal with the individual, however, is not without its problems; few, if any, studies have been carried out to investigate if there is a gender or ethnic difference in treatment needs, which makes tailoring a programme to meet their specific needs is difficult.

However, the academic world is not in agreement over the efficacy of treatment for miss-users of drugs. There is a substantial body of research that questions the efficacy of either criminal deterrence or treatment programme. The accepted ‘wisdom’ was that ‘nothing works’. However, the work of Andrews, Zinger, Huge, Bonita, Gendered and Cullen, shows that this is not true. They found that if you studied people who had been treated appropriately then the recidivism rates were reduced by 50%.

Clearly a careful, sensitive choice is necessary when choosing treatment programme for the drug miss-user. It is also true that residential programmes are slightly more successful at lowering the recidivism rates. The situation in Britain seems to be more positive than in the US; a briefing paper from the NTASA published in 2002maintains that after four to five years around 50% of cocaine users who have completed treatment remain non-drug users.

Interestingly, the most successful treatments have something in common, that is they all provide the drug user with the motivation to change and are ‘people intensive’. This desire for close human contact and the motivation to change could explain the success of the Open Book project. Open Book, an organisation based at Goldsmith’s College, which is part of the University of London, has established a radical new strategy to help people to escape from the cycle of committing crime, serving a sentence, and coming out only to re-offend. The group is run by Joe Baden, a former ex-offender who had ended up in prison because of criminality caused by alcohol and drug abuse.

He decided to use education ‘as a vehicle out of a life of addiction and criminality’. After completing a degree in History in 1998, he became a tutor with the probation service, which is where he became aware that many of thee-prisoners he met had the potential to enter higher education. He got involved with a pilot project at Goldsmiths College to encourage others to follow the route he’d taken.

The experiment was a success and at the time of the article in The Independent, had 27 ex-prisoners or drug addicts on degree courses. A typical student was reported as saying, ‘I was surrounded by drugs, crime and prostitution, and in prison at the age of 20’, he went on to describe how, with encouragement, he enrolled on a course. ‘I’ve never re-offended and I’ve discovered a belief in myself.’

This venture has the support of the lobby group, Forum on Prisoner Education and the Howard League for Penal Reform. A spokeswoman for them enthusiastically explained, ‘supporting ex-prisoners into higher education increases their employment opportunities, improved their self-esteem and reduces the risk that their children will struggle at school’.

The endeavour also fits in very well with the notion that it makes economic sense to prevent drug taking, or help those jailed for drug and drug related offences from re-offending. The running costs of Open Book are about the same as the amount needed to keep one offender imprison for twelve months, £35,000. However, Dr Lasher, in his evidence to a US Senate judiciary hearing in 2001, claims that attention needs to be paid to treatments received while offenders are in the criminal justice system. He insists that only the ‘blended public health/public safety approach of dealing with addicted offenders benefits not only the patient, but the family and community as well’.

More evidence of the importance of a ‘person intensive’ treatment is found in a briefing paper produced by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. It claims that a good relationship between the client and counsellor during drug treatment is essential if the outcome is tube successful. It is vital that the counsellor engenders confidence and commitment in the client to the treatment.

Policy makers must take the evidence showing the importance of highly skilled counsellors into consideration. Money needs to be provided forth training of more such workers. As we have seen earlier although this might seem an expensive option, ultimately it will be seen to be cost effective as there is a drop in the crime rates and fewer people incarcerated in the prison and young offender system. It could be argued we can’t afford not to undertake this measure.

Successful treatment of drug offenders has already been shown to be successful in relation to economics savings due to the decrease in criminal activities of those who have completed treatment. The reductions in offences were associated with a drop in crime costs from£5.8 million to £1.8 million at the one-year follow-up, according to the NTORS study. This is a significant amount. The report continues, ‘the cost of crimes committed by the high-rate offenders accounted for95% of the total crime costs’. The study maintains that treatments costing £2 million pounds led to savings of £27 million pounds overall.

Clearly treatment of drug misuse is important and valuable both for the individual involved and for a society increasing fearful of crime; it is also clear that it has enormous economic benefits. It is clear that further research into how best to accomplish these treatments is important and must be pursued.


In this dissertation we have asked a number of question and attempted to draw conclusions in the light of an incomplete research base. We began by considering what led to people becoming drug users. There is clearly no simple factor. There is a greater amount of drug use to be found in socially deprived areas, however, there are also wealthy drug users, so the social and economic factors cannot be the whole story.

There is also evidence of genetic and personality factors being involved, but again it is not clear from the evidence what the link is. It is also clear that many more people who share these various factors do not go on to take or abuse drugs. However, it must not be forgotten that the selling of drugs has become a lucrative business and that the ‘products’ are now marketed in the same way as any other commodity.

There is a similar problem when considering the link between drug abuse and crime. There is clearly a correlation as so many convicted criminals are found to have taken drugs. But again the link itself is unclear. It could be purely that drug taking is expensive and the money has to be found from illegitimate means if it can’t be found legitimately. Or it could be that someone predisposed to commit crime is also predisposed to take drugs, should either opportunity arise. Again much more research needs to be done before a definitive causal link is found.

However, whether or not the causal link can be found it is clear that drug abuse leads to a substantial amount of crime on an international, national and local level. The production and sales of drugs has reached the size of a large multi-national corporation. It has become clear that in order to fight this level and magnitude of crime, enforcement agencies have to be prepared to act together on a global scale, sharing information and activities.

It is also clear that governmental states have to work together to produce policies that can tackle the issues, such as the fact that Afghanistan’s economy would collapse without its production of opium, as would the economies of a number of Latin-American countries. Crime of this magnitude can only be successfully combated if people and agencies work together all the way from an international level to a street level.

We have looked at individual examples of the co-operation that is being undertaking at the international level, even down to the provision of money and intelligence to enforcement agencies in other countries. We’ve looked at efforts made to prevent drugs entering this country but have also looked at the attempts made to disrupt the market before it reaches street level. At street level, there has been an increase in government agencies working together in order to combat drug crime at all levels; this is proving to be the most successful way of dealing with the specific problems created by drug misuse.

Treatment of drug misuse of individuals is very important. The drugs industry relies on demand as well as supply to keep functioning. It is necessary to work on the drug industries organisation but also on the people they supply. Up until now society’s response has been punitive, but apart from making a statement about its abhorrence of drugs and their associated crimes it is difficult from the evidence to see the justification for long prison sentences; after they do not appear to have a deterrent effect.

Other treatment methods have been much studied; again the response by academics has been mixed. Some believe it is all a ‘waste of time’ while others can see the value in some treatments. What is evident is that treatment needs to be holistic –treating the whole physical and psychological body, not just one or the other.

The most significant finding is that individual people are vitally important in the success of such treatments. If society invested more money in its treatment personnel, then it would allow the police the time to turn to dealing with the very serious end of the drugs trade – the organised international gangs.

It is also clear that not just drug using individuals in society need to be aware of the problems both in the destruction of the lives of the individual drug takers to the crime it leads to; only when the general public are interested and motivated to take action will government agencies and not-for-profit organisations get the support them need in terms of political power, money and voluntary help.

Clearly drug abuse causes enormous problems to both the user and society. There is a great deal of money and effort being directed at dealing with this problem; however, to facilitate the most useful and constructive ways of dealing with the problem more research is necessary and advisable.


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