An altered state? Emergent changes to illicit drug markets and distribution networks in Scotland

James Densley, Robert McLean, Ross Deuchar, Simon Harding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
172 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Many efforts have been undertaken to construct an overview of various aspects of illicit drug distribution in the United Kingdom. Yet given that national, regional, and local differences can be profound, this has proven difficult, to the extent that Scotland has been largely excluded from the conversation. In addition, the level of supply being examined, the drug type, and the actors involved only add to confusion and vast differences between some findings. Method: The current study aims to provide a holistic account, as best as possible considering variations of illegal drug supply in illicit networks, by focusing in on a particular geographical context (Scotland) and addressing drug supply at all levels. It is informed by in-depth interviews with 42 offenders involved in drug distribution from retail to wholesale/middle market to importation levels. Results: Findings indicate Scotland's importation and distribution is evolving owing to increasingly adaptive risk mitigation by importers and distributors, and market diversification of both product and demand. While a hierarchical model still dominates the market, commuting or ‘county lines’ and increasing demand for drugs such as cannabis, but also anabolic steroids and psychoactive substances, means that home growing, online purchasing, and street-level dealership is common. Conclusion: The findings have the capacity to further inform police and practitioners about the diverse and evolving nature of drug distribution in Scotland (with a particular focus on the west of the country), so that they may become more effective in improving the safety and wellbeing of people, places and communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-120
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Early online date13 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2018


  • organised crime
  • drug sales
  • importation
  • County lines
  • Glasgow
  • Middle market


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