Research type 
Year of report 

Summary of findings


The main conclusions drawn were:

  • Few drug users had thought beyond their immediate personal experience of the supply chain to wonder what the distribution network which supported it might have been like, or by what means drugs were produced. The respondents’ immediate experience was that of a cottage industry with drugs supplied by longstanding contacts, and where buyers and suppliers were often part of the same social network. If pressed to think, users could accept that something much larger and perhaps more sinister lay beyond this, but they found it hard to equate this to their own experience. Perceptions of this more remote world were driven by the media. Media images dominated perceptions of the drugs world held by non users without friends who used drugs who had no direct contact of any sort with the drugs world.
  • Some of the supply chain facts presented were thought provoking in different ways. An understanding of the chemical and toxic ingredients used and discarded in their manufacture served to emphasise the potential dangers presented by drugs, which reinforced the views of non users to avoid them, and of users to take care how they used them. There could also be a more subtle change in the way the drugs industry and drug consumption was viewed, as it was clear that there were negative consequences beyond the personal risk to the user, which meant that taking drugs was not purely a personal decision. In addition the sheer scale of the industry was a surprise to all.
  • In itself this information is unlikely to provoke wholesale behavioural change, or lead to non users confronting users. It might however provide additional reasons for avoiding drugs in the first place, taking more care, using them less, and so on. The wider harm done by the drugs industry to the environment and society could also allow non users to have a slightly different perspective on drugs, that is they could feel justified in seeing drugs as ‘wrong’ rather than just ‘not for them’.
  • Drug users were likely to see the effect of their own behaviour in relation to environmental and social issues as minute. As a result they felt little inclination to change their behaviour, as they felt that this would have little effect on these macro level problems. While it may not be impossible to overcome this individual ‘inertia’ to provoke action it would undoubtedly be a difficult communications task.
  • Some of the supply chain issues would be much more powerful if they could be evidenced by examples closer to home. Ideally people should feel that these problems are occurring in places, near where they live, and in places like where they live.
  • If ‘supply chain’ issues are used to help undermine drugs usage and the drugs industry it will be important not to appear to be singling drugs out for an unfair proportion of blame, or to be seen to be otherwise distorting the facts to make negative points. This will certainly be the case for environmental issues where the impact of ‘big business’ in its many forms is already well known. In this instance it will probably be sufficient simply to make it clear that drugs share the blame with other industries. In other instances, for example crime, there was more general agreement that drugs were to blame from drug users and non users alike, although by this these drug users were thinking specifically of Heroin and Crack. There was a feeling across the sample that crime was reaching worrying levels. Many had been directly affected by it, or had direct connections with those who had.
  • Another issue found generally concerning, prompted by exploitation of youth in the supply chain, was the age at which children and teenagers were seen to be starting to use drugs. Everyone, even the most hardened and youngest of users, felt that this was a worrying and unacceptable trend. This might also be an issue which could be harnessed to positive effect?

Research objectives


This research looked at young peoples views on the drug supply chain in terms of:

  • The process used to produce drugs
  • Transport of drugs
  • How the drugs are broken down
  • Sale to the end user

The main aims of the research were to:

  • Understand current awareness and attitudes to the ‘supply chain’
  • Understand in particular, attitudes and feelings towards drug users’ suppliers
  • Gain reactions to descriptions and statements regarding various elements and issues surrounding the supply chain



The Home Office wished to understand the drug supply chain from a consumer perspective and to explore the potential for developing messages which could help to undermine drug usage and favourable perceptions of drugs, drug dealers and drug users. Some possible examples of areas explored were:

  • Transportation - the way drugs are transported by swallowing ‘loaded’ condoms, or by concealment in bodily orifices is potentially distasteful, particularly to teenagers, who often display squeamish sensibilities.
  • Environmental - growing ‘coca’ plants is disastrous for the balance of the soil, chemicals used in the production of cocaine are highly environmentally unfriendly, ecstasy ‘factories’ generate quantities of toxic waste which often end up in local watercourses, the fact that most of the major grocery retailers and DIY chains, as well as other large corporates are taking environmental issues very seriously suggests that this may be an area for exploitation.
  • Political - the drugs economy is so lucrative that it overwhelms some national economies and destabilises political regimes and anecdotally young people are deeply critical of capitalist enterprises influencing democratically elected governments.
  • Exploitation of workers - those working on the ‘shop floor’ in the drugs trade are often paid a pittance and teenagers expect high moral standards, and can react negatively to those that breach them, for example, Nike’s reputation has been recently dented by the revelation that it paid workers in some third world countries very low wages.
  • Exploitation of children - there are reports of drugs being sold to very young teenagers in certain cities in the UK, sometimes in a deliberate attempt to promote addiction and research has indicated that teenagers dislike the idea of younger siblings taking drugs, and this could be used in connection with the above.
  • Social Supply drug users seem relatively tolerant of this concept, even thought it effectively means their friends are making money out of them.
  • Addicted dealers anecdotally it seems addicted dealers are often looked down on by their customers, despite the fact that their addiction is effectively being exploited by the drugs trade.

Research participants


This study interviewed groups of users and non-users aged between 16 and 30

Audience Summary





Not specified


  • 16 – 18
  • 18 - 24
  • 25 - 30

Social Class

  • B
  • C1
  • C2
  • D


Data collection methodology

Focus groups

Other data collection methodology

  • The primary target group for the research was defined as 16-30 year old drug users, with an emphasis on 16-24 year olds. A secondary target group was defined as drug rejectors, and cannabis users who rejected use of class A drugs.
  • It was thought that friendship group discussions of 4-5 respondents would be the most appropriate method for conducting the research, as given the nature of the subject it was thought that their responses would be more honest, and less inhibited or distorted by exaggeration or posturing.
  • Recruitment was conducted without exposing respondents to questionnaires in order to avoid any suggestion that details might be recorded and passed on to a third party. Recruiters utilised established contacts to gain introduction to others, and to reassure, as it was felt that a ‘cold’ approach would not have been successful. Questionnaires were given to recruiters but only for them to use as a ‘guide’ for the type of respondent to be recruited.

Sample size


Age 16-18 x 6 groups, single, still living in parental home

Drug users

  • 1 x male - B C1 - working regular
  • 1 x female - C2 D - working dabblers
  • 1 x male - C2 D - FTE dabblers
  • 1 x female - B C1 - FTE - regular

Non users and class A rejectors

  • 1 x female - C2 D - working - Cannabis using class A rejector
  • 1 x male - B C1- FTE - Drugs rejector

18-24 x 4 groups, single, or married / cohabiting, but without children

Drug users

  • 1 x male - B C1 - working regular
  • 1 x female - C2 D - working regular
  • 1 x male - C2 D - FTE regular
  • 1 x female - B C1 - FTE regular

Non users and class A rejectors

  • 1 x male - C2 D - working - Cannabis using - class A rejector
  • 1 x female - B C1 - FTE - Drugs rejector

25-30 x 6 groups, single, or married / cohabiting, but without children


  • 1 x male - B C1 - working regular
  • 1 x male - C2 D - working regular
  • 1 x female - B C1 - working regular
  • 1 x female - C2 D - working regular


  • 1 x male - C2 D - Drugs rejector
  • 1 x female - B C1 - Cannabis using - class A rejector

Detailed region


Staines, Middlesex, Enfield, Erdington, West Midlands, Oldham, Leeds, Wallington, Surrey, Hedge End, Southampton

Fieldwork dates


5th – 17th March 2003

Agree to publish





This report is classified as sensitive as it deals with young people.

Research agency


COI Number


Report format