NORC just completed a 4-year (2007-2011) mixed methods study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) on the organization and operation of methamphetamine markets in America. This was part of a broader initiative by NIDA and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and contributes to a better understanding of the dynamics of illicit retail drug markets across the nation.
On a substantive level, this study is important because it produced findings about how local meth markets are organized and operate in different parts of the country and about the relationship of those markets to local concerns for public safety, public health, and the local economy from the perspective of people who participate in or are affected by the market or markets in their community. It also demonstrates how local meth markets are interrelated on a national level.
Methodologically, this project is particularly important as an innovative mixed methods study that integrates a quantitative survey of police agencies with open-ended, in-depth telephone interviews with narcotics detectives and then site visits to dozens of locations around the country to observe and talk with individuals and groups of local and regional public health and safety officials, drug treatment providers, prevention program workers, family service providers and officials, methamphetamine users and dealers, and others whose lives are affected by methamphetamine in their community. In addition, for the telephone interviews an innovative method combining WebEx connections and Googlemaps allowed the interviewer and respondent to interactively communicate during the interview through a shared computerized map showing all reported methamphetamine seizures by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over a five year period.
This study demonstrates NORC’s commitment to innovation and its leadership in the design and conduct of studies in the increasingly important and sophisticated area of mixed methods research.
For social science researchers, a particularly innovative aspect of this study is the fact that it used quantitative survey data in an exploratory role to inform and validate subsequent qualitative data collection and analysis from semi-structured intensive interviews and observational site visits including open-ended interviews and focus groups. The study was conducted in 3 stages beginning with an exploratory screening survey of police agencies in all 50 states, followed by open-ended, in-depth telephone interviews with narcotics police in agencies selected on the basis of findings from the survey data, and then site visits to more than 28 cities, towns, and villages in 5 regions (Pacific Northwest, Southwest, Midwest, Middle Atlantic, Southeast) to observe and talk to public safety and health officials and officers, drug treatment and prevention workers, family service providers, meth users and dealers, and other local people whose lives are affected by the meth markets. Findings and conclusions from quantitative analysis of the survey data were used to guide and inform subsequent data collection, analysis, and validation in the qualitative stages of the study.
For policymakers, practitioners, and citizens the findings of this study provide a broad context for understanding methamphetamine markets and the methamphetamine industry in America. Of particular importance to policymakers and practitioners are findings about how local meth users and suppliers adapted to changing Federal and state legislation and policies in the early 2000’s that tried to limit access to precursor drugs found in common cold medicines. Some markets remained viable when Mexican cartels already serving U.S. communities with other drugs added methamphetamine to their product line, and in others local cooks who could not get sufficient pseudoephedrine on their own adapted by organizing their customers to combine the limited supplies of cold medicines they could get. Today there are major differences between communities that have meth markets served primarily by local cooks running mom-and –pop operations to make meth for themselves and small networks of acquaintances and those with organized businesses primarily distributing imported meth, mostly from Mexico.
Other particular findings of this research are useful to inform policy and practice about how methamphetamine markets are organized and operate in different communities, the impact of the different types of markets on their community and the people who live there, the relationship between meth using and marketing and family life, how meth markets adapted and evolved in response to Federal and state legislation to close them down, and how people who participate in the meth markets relate to each other and the people around them.
Unique characteristics of this project:
Dynamics of Methamphetamine Markets works to better understand drug markets through its innovative methods for open-ended, in-depth telephone interviews. This project's research is to use exploratory quantitative survey to inform subsequent qualitative data collection and analysis.