The impact of the Great Recession on the Irish drug market

AuthorJames Windle
Publication Date01 November 2018
Criminology & Criminal Justice
2018, Vol. 18(5) 548 –567
© The Author(s) 2017
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1748895817741518
The impact of the Great
Recession on the Irish
drug market
James Windle
University College Cork, Ireland
This article analyses 10 years (2004–2014) of An Garda Síochána controlled drug data to
investigate the impact of economic recession and globalization on the Irish illicit drug market.
The limited international literature on recessions and drug markets suggests that economic
downturns can increase both drug consumption and dealing. Gardaí data may, however, suggest
that the 2008 Great Recession reduced drug use and dealing, yet increased the cultivation and
manufacture of drugs: trends which largely conflict with the international literature. Two testable
hypotheses are drawn from the data: (1) net consumption and trade of illicit drugs were reduced
by emigration triggered by the Great Recession; (2) the Great Recession forced an adaptation in
the market which sped up the process towards import substitution of cannabis cultivation. The
article concludes by investigating how recent changes highlight the globalized nature of Irish drug
markets before proposing avenues for further research.
Cannabis cultivation, economic recession, emigration, globalization, illicit drug markets, import
substitution, Ireland
Drug consumption in the Republic of Ireland increased significantly during the 1990s,
partly due to a sustained economic boom, and by 2001 Ireland had one of the highest
rates of drug consumption per person in Europe (Kilcommins et al., 2004; O’Gorman,
2014). While the Irish media and policymakers commonly express concern over the
proliferation of illicit drug markets and associated problems, there has ‘been an almost
Corresponding author:
James Windle, Lecturer in Criminology, Department of Sociology, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.
741518CRJ0010.1177/1748895817741518Criminology & Criminal JusticeWindle
Windle 549
total absence of in-depth research and analysis of […] illicit drug markets in Ireland’
(Connolly and Donovan, 2014: 15; see also Irish Focal Point, 2014).
This article goes some way towards filling this gap in the knowledge base by review-
ing a decade (2004–2014) of An Garda Síochána (the Irish police force) recorded con-
trolled drug offence data.1 The data provide a snapshot from the tail-end of an economic
boom through the 2008 Great Recession. The analysis is framed around a discussion of
the impact of globalization and economic recession on the Irish drug market. As such, the
article adds to the limited literature on Irish drug markets and the equally limited litera-
ture on the impact of recession on drug markets.
The following section provides contextual information on the Irish drug market. This
is followed by discussion on the limitations of using Gardaí data to investigate drug
market trends. The data are then explored and two hypotheses are cautiously developed
to explain why cultivation or manufacture of drugs increased as all other recorded drug
offences declined. The article concludes by discussing limitations to the current study
and proposes future research ideas.
Irish Drug Markets
Cannabis has consistently been Ireland’s most widely consumed illicit drug, followed by
cocaine or MDMA and then amphetamine-type stimulants and heroin (Figure 1). While
the rise in heroin between 2010/2011 and 2014/2015 is quantitatively small (Figure 1),
media accounts suggest a significant increase since the mid-2000s (Irish Examiner,
2014). Indeed, the number of people in opioid substitution treatment has steadily
increased from 8727 in 2010 to 9640 in 2013 (EMCDDA, 2016). Consumption of crack
cocaine remains limited in Ireland, although increasing in parts of Dublin (Connolly
et al., 2008) with numbers presenting for treatment having increased from 17 in 2006 to
62 in 2013 (EMCDDA, 2016).
Figure 1. Last year prevalence of drug use.
Source: Ipsos (2015).

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