Other impacts on society (EU Drug Markets Report)

Other impacts on society

Illicit drug markets have a range of impacts on neighbourhoods and society in general. The illegal nature of the drug market means that those who use drugs expose themselves to more harms than would be the case in a legitimately regulated market. However, the harms extend beyond drug users, in that violence, corruption and fear of visible drug markets also affect non-users (Wilson and Stevens, 2008). The drug market can also result in environmental degradation, high crime rates, decreases in property values and loss of amenities because areas associated with drug use become ‘no-go areas’ and lead to business closures. If the police are seen as ineffective at dealing with drug markets, there may be a knock-on loss of confidence in policing and a reluctance to report drug-related or other offences. In some deprived areas or among marginalised communities, involvement in the drug market may be perceived as providing one of the few available opportunities for income generation and therefore attract vulnerable young people into involvement with criminal behaviour. This can have long-term negative consequences for both those involved and the wider community (Bibard et al., 2013; Connolly and Donovan, 2014).

Drug-related economic-compulsive crimes

The extent to which drug use is associated with offending (other than drug law offences) is dependent on a variety of factors, including the type and pattern of drug use, socio-economic situation and lifestyle factors. Drug dependence, with the resulting need to finance drug habits, can lead users to engage in acquisitive crime, such as shoplifting, robbery or burglary, as well as drug dealing. Offending is often reduced following engagement with drug treatment services. In the EU, the association with acquisitive offending is most noted in relation to dependent opioid use and some chronic patterns of stimulant use. Drug-related crimes can have a major impact on society, causing significant losses to individual victims and businesses. One study in England and Wales estimated that, on average, heroin users commit 160–230 acquisitive offences a year, around 70 % of which are shop theft, and that this generates ‘an income’ of about EUR 4 700–7 900 (GBP 4 000–6 700) a year. The overall costs imposed on society by an average heroin user’s drug-related crime, although highly uncertain, are placed in the range EUR 71 000–118 000 (GBP 60 000–100 000) (8) (Bryan et al., 2013). The overall cost to society of drug-related acquisitive crime in England and Wales in 2010/11 has been estimated to be EUR 6 200 –7 650 million (9) (GBP 5 318–6 566 million) (Mills et al., 2013).

Drug market-related violence

Drug market violence is often framed as resulting from the effects of drugs on individual users (e.g. violence stemming from drug-induced psychosis) or as a by-product of involvement in some acquisitive crime, such as robbery, as mentioned above. However, the illicit production and trafficking of drugs has an additional element that links violence, including homicidal violence, with drugs. This ‘systemic’ violence is an inherent component of the illicit drug market, used to gain or maintain market share or resolve disputes (Goldstein, 1985; Goldstein et al., 1989). However, such systemic violence, at least in the European context, appears most often directed towards other groups or individuals participating in the marketplace, rather than consumers. Inter-gang rivalries and struggles over territory are a concern in many countries and have international reach (see Case study 5).

Internationally, both the production and the transit phases of transnational drug trafficking generate a significant amount of crime and violence, as homicides are frequently associated with organisations involved in the movement of drugs (UNODC, 2013a). In a variety of settings, cartels that derive their primary financing from illicit drugs production have been implicated in a substantial proportion of homicides (Castle, 2009; Agren, 2010; Mejia and Restrepo, 2013). With regard to retail markets for illicit drugs, as well as to trafficking, there is evidence that the extent of violence varies and some drug markets are less violent than others (Coomber, 2015).

Representing the most serious form of drug market violent crime, homicides linked to the drug trade have been proposed as a potential indicator of systemic violence (Ouimet, 2012). However, although some information on the frequency of homicides in different countries is available, these figures currently do not provide contextual information, such as the relationship to illegal drug trade, consistently across Europe. This information is either unavailable or limited in comparability because of legal and definitional differences. Although the methodological issues in this area are not trivial, it is worth exploring, for future monitoring purposes, if information on drug-related homicides can be improved at the European level. In addition to lessons from the European Homicide Monitor (Liem et al., 2013), some work conducted in Canada provides one potential model that could inform European discussions on this topic (Homicide Survey, Statistics Canada (10)).

Environmental impacts

The illicit production of plant-based and synthetic drugs entails a range of environmental harms where it takes place and the dumping of waste products from synthetic drug production in parts of Europe is a growing problem (Figure 1.5), which is addressed in more detail in the individual drug chapters. Many of the chemicals used in the production of drugs are toxic. The hazardous waste products are often simply dumped on the ground or in streams and rivers in the areas where drug labs are located, which may often be in populous areas or host to fragile ecosystems.

Although precise estimates are not available, it is probable that millions of tonnes of hazardous waste from drug production are released into the environment each year (UNODC 2006a, 2015a). The impact and harms will vary depending on where this takes place. Deforestation is a particular concern and can impact on biodiversity and climate change and increases the risk of erosion. This is a particular concern in areas with heavy rainfall, and when the land under cultivation is on a slope, which is the case of much of the area of coca and poppy cultivation in South America and South-East Asia, as well as areas under cannabis cultivation in the Moroccan Rif area. In addition, the excessive use of chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides in order to increase production can also cause environmental problems. Moreover, in regions with limited water resources, drug production needs compete with other water needs (Chouvy, 2003; Afsahi and Chouvy, 2015).


Dump sites of chemical waste from synthetic drug production

A stolen van loaded with waste product from MDMA manufacturing that was set on fire in the Netherlands

Photo © Dutch National Police/LFO

Waste product from synthetic drug production dumped in a rural area in the Netherlands

Photo © Dutch National Police/LFO via Europol 

Case study 5: Systemic violence associated with drug markets — international and long-lasting

Homicide can be categorised according to the relationship between the offender and victim and the context in which it takes place. Dutch researchers have noted that in the Netherlands most homicides that take place in the criminal environment are drug related. They include the murder by drug users of dealers or other drug users, and the murder of dealers by other dealers, so-called ‘liquidations’. Of all homicides, approximately 11 % fall into this category. The following case compiled from media reports — one of the potential key sources for monitoring drug-related homicide — illustrates the impact of such activity on public order and security.

In December 2014, Vedat Şahin, the Rotterdam-based brother of a top Turkish gangster, was murdered in Istanbul on the same day as his associate, a Dutch-Turkish criminal named Ali Akgün. Şahin was shot whilst walking in the street with his two bodyguards, one of whom also died later in hospital. Akgün was shot dead in his car while it was stopped at traffic lights. According to the public prosecutor, Akgün had been linked to a series of liquidations in the Netherlands, where he was connected with the upper echelons of Dutch organised crime.

One of the people arrested during the police investigation was Atilla Önder, alleged to be connected to the drug trade and to several liquidations, and who narrowly avoided being murdered himself in the Netherlands. In April 2015, Atilla Önder’s son, Baris Önder, was murdered in Amsterdam when his car came under fire. Baris Önder’s close criminal associate of Turkish origin, Murat Garki, who was being tried in a major case of alleged extortion of a drug trafficker, had been murdered in Amsterdam in December 2014. Önder and Garki were suspected to be involved in heroin and synthetic drug distribution and had been arrested earlier in 2014 during an investigation into the murder of Aytas Göraler, who had once owned an Amsterdam nightclub called ‘The Sand’, in which Atilla Önder had invested at one time. The Sand nightclub was shut in September 2014 by order of the mayor after a fatal shooting on the premises.


Research project European HOMICIDE Monitor (http://law.leiden.edu/organisation/criminology/research/homicide/charact...), Liem et al. (2013) and press reports.

Short title: 
Other impacts

(8)  Pounds sterling have been converted to euros using 2013 exchange rates.

(9)  Pounds sterling have been converted to euros using 2010 exchange rates. 

(10) See http://www23.statcan.gc.ca/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvInstru- ment&SurvId=1723&InstaId=201339