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The Concept and Manifestation of Drug Abuse

E.G. Gasanov

This and many other very interesting materials have been published in the book "Drug Abuse: Tendencies and Ways to Overcome It (based on materials of the Republic of Azerbaijan)" (Мoscow: "JurInfoR" Educational and Consulting Center, 1998)


Sociologists, lawyers and medical experts single out three basic aspects of drug abuse: social, legal and medical[001].

These aspects are interconnected and interdependent and reveal the diverse nature of drug abuse. Moreover one can also point out the criminological, economic and ecological aspects.

To highlight the entire multiplicity of this phenomenon, it is necessary to go beyond the widespread notion of "drug addiction" because strictly speaking it applies only to the medical or biological aspects of drug use being viewed exclusively as a disease without covering social, legal and some other aspects. This is why the notion "drug abuse" rather than "drug addiction" is used in juridical literature as a much wider term covering social, legal and other aspects. So, drug abuse is understood as a "social phenomenon" which combines such illegal actions as willful consumption of narcotics, dealing in narcotics illegally, as well as solicitation to use drugs, creating the conditions for becoming a part of illegal drug trafficking."[002].

This definition is acceptable on the whole and may be used as a basis for describing the phenomenon, yet it fails to cover the biological aspect and insufficiently expresses the economic, legal and criminological aspects.

There is a need for a term that would cover all the aspects of this negative phenomenon, and of the ways of combating it.

Social Aspects of Drug Abuse

Most concisely, the social aspect of drug abuse can be described as a combination of social behaviors linked to narcotics and their social consequences in the form of damage that has been done and can be done to society[003].

The actual negative social manifestations of drug abuse are expressed in various drug-related actions: cultivation of drug-bearing plants, preparation, acquisition, storage, sale and consumption of narcotics, as well as persuasion to use narcotics[004].

Negative Social Consequences of Drug Abuse

The negative social consequences of drug abuse are similar to the social consequences of crime. They amount to "real harm caused by crime to social relationships and expressed in the cause-and-effect combination of criminal behavior and in the direct and indirect, immediate and mediate negative changes (damage, losses, and other ill effects), ultimately affecting the social (economic, moral, legal, etc.) values and also implying the combination of society's economic and other social hazards attributed to the effort to combat and to socially prevent crime."[005].

Proceeding from this definition it is possible to recognize the negative social consequences of drug abuse. The first is the negative social changes, such as harm to people's health, the destruction of family foundations, and a decline in work efficiency. The second is the cost which society has to pay to overcome these changes. Other changes also include refusal to work, various antisocial actions, and crime[006]. A closer look at these negative changes shows that drug addicts are poor workers because of their ill health, which, in general, makes work impossible for them during spells of abstinence. Their entire range of interests and thoughts lies in the desire to find ways of obtaining drugs. The list of negative changes also includes material damage perpetrated by the drug addicts who are often the source of transportation accidents and accidents in industry. For example, 60 billion dollars worth of damage is done annually in the United States alone. There is also the moral damage resulting from the various unlawful actions motivated by the desire to find means for buying drugs, such as the willingness to commit crime for the sake of meeting that desire. Forgery, embezzlement, abuse of authority and office duties are just a few. Drug addicts create unbearable conditions for their families by denying them normal lifestyles and means of existence. They harm their offspring by upsetting the hereditary stock. Drug addicts undergo physical and moral degradation and die early. They destroy their own basic moral and ethical values[007].

The Committee of Experts of the World Health Organization[008] determines the social danger and negative consequences of drug abuse according to the basic factors and divides them into two main groups: the breach of relations among drug consumers and the spread of unfavorable consequences among many people.

Specific Social Problems of Drug Abuse

WHO experts describe the specific social problems caused by drug abuse as follows: the huge material losses and their consequences in the form of all kinds of damage done to those who immediately surround drug consumers (parents, college roommates and so on) and to the society as a whole; the deterioration of relations with official organizations and institutions, staff at college and at work etc.; drug consumers' inclination to commit crimes motivated by the need to have drugs or the means to buy them, and also the mercenary and violent crimes committed under the influence of drugs; the additional demand for welfare benefits and medical care for persons using drugs other than for medicinal purposes and in connection with this the unnoticed spending both by drug addicts and by society as a whole; the danger arising from drug addicts as potential conduct of drug addiction in their immediate surroundings[009].

Detailed research however allows for a broader list of specific social aspects. They include: ideological and cultural, law enforcement, medical care and preventative medicine, labor and education, family and leisure time, and material resources. The specific ill-effects of narcotics and their unfavorable social consequences can be seen in any of the categories listed above. For example, in the ideological and cultural area they express themselves in the development of a specific drug ideology; in the law enforcement area there is an increase of crime. In Medicare and preventive medicine, there is deterioration in people's health and an increase in the number of handicapped children. In industry and education - a decline in labor efficiency and poor results at schools and other educational centers is evident. One can also point to accidents and to deterioration of relations among staff. In the family relations, a loss of understanding occurs. All this requires setting up special schools, preventive centers, drug departments at medical institutions, rehabilitation centers and new antidrug programs[010].

To sum up the above-cited social aspects of drug abuse one may state, that it is harmful in physical, moral and proprietary ways. This harm is caused by the proliferation of the narcotic sub-culture as it draws more victims into it; secondly, by drug-related crimes; thirdly, by crimes committed for the purpose of getting means for buying more drugs; fourthly, by crimes committed under the influence of drugs; and, finally, by the spending needed to carry out various programs aimed at eliminating drug abuse.

Legal Aspect of Drug Abuse

The legal aspect of drug abuse is also a part of the social aspect. Crimes and other law-breaking acts covered by the totality of legal norms involve the illegal cultivation of drug-bearing plants, the preparation, storage, transportation, trafficking, sales, and theft of drugs, the use of drugs without doctor's prescription, and the violation of laws regulating the handling of narcotics. This also covers the situation when suitable conditions are created for taking drugs and those in which more people are persuaded to use drugs or when people have to commit crimes in order to obtain means to buy drugs. Crimes committed under the influence of drugs, as well as crimes that are committed for the purpose of getting money to purchase drugs are included as well[011].

These crimes should be viewed as part of the notion of drug abuse since they are caused by the desires of drug users to boost drug-inspired activities or their level of intoxication. The legal aspect of drug abuse also includes those relationships regulated by law and arising from the non-medical use of drugs[012].

Criminological Aspect of Drug Abuse

The criminological aspect of drug abuse includes a part of this phenomenon that poses an extreme danger to the public, i.e. is linked to the above-cited crimes, their state, level, structure, dynamics, cause-and-effect, criminal's personality, and prevention measures, among others[013].

Economic Aspect of Drug Abuse

The economic aspect of drug abuse is associated with its affect on economy, such as large sums of money in possession of drug dealers, a decline in labor productivity of drug addicts; an increase in spending on law-enforcement engaged in combating drug-related crimes; and a drain on national budgets due to preventive and rehabilitation measures to combat drug addiction. Experts claim, for example, that in the former USSR, the cost of illegal drug trafficking within the "narco-business-shadow economy" amounted to billions of roubles[014].

Biological Aspect of Drug Abuse

The biological aspect of drug abuse is associated with the notion that it is "a disease manifested by a constant and insurmountable craving for drugs (morphine, for example) causing euphoria in small doses and stupor in large ones. The regular use of drugs arouses a desire to increase the dose. Withdrawal is usually accompanied by the abstinence syndrome.

Narcotics damage the internal organs of drug takers, destroy their nervous systems, their state of mind, and bring about their social degradation."[015]

Since drug addiction is a disease, there is a need to find a cure for it. Hence, the need to have qualified medical personnel, special drug rehabilitation centers and branch offices, effective medicines and curative methods.

Ecological Aspect of Drug Abuse

The ecological aspect of narcotics is associated, on the one hand, with the natural existence of drug-bearing plants, and on the other, with their man-made cultivation. These plants are a source of obtaining and preparing narcotic substances. From the ecological point of view there is a need, first, to do away with the spread of wild drug-bearing plants, and second, to ban their man-made cultivation. The economic, biological and ecological aspects are subjects for research by experts.

Drug-related Crimes

It is possible to define drug abuse as a negative social phenomenon touching upon the social, legal, criminological, economic, biological and ecological areas accordingly. One part of the phenomenon is drug addiction, as a disease, and other, embraces all the law-breaking actions related to drugs: those carried out to secure means for purchasing drugs or those committed under the influence of drugs[016]. Such law-breaking actions cover the use, preparation, purchase, storage, transportation, parcel mail, sale and theft of narcotic substances; attempts to force other people to use drugs and the creation of conditions conducive to such use; attempts to sow and grow drug-bearing plants; attempts to violate the established rules regulating the production, purchase, storage, control, sale, transportation or parcel mail of narcotic substances; and, drug smuggling. The law-breaking actions also cover various mercenary crimes (violent crime) that are not drug-related but are committed in order to buy drugs subsequently (theft, robbery, plunder, fraud, blackmail and others) and also violent crimes committed under the influence of drugs (e.g., hooliganism against individuals). This notion reflects the essence and the confines of the drug use and serves as a guideline for determining its scale and developing strategies against it. Yet the true scale of this phenomenon is obscured by a high degree of latent drug-induced diseases and law-breaking drug-related actions[017].

Narcotics and Crime

The above-listed law-breaking actions are crimes proving an interrelation between drug abuse and crime. Drugs and crime are not only closely interrelated, but actually blend fully, and in fact, become what is known, as narco-crime. But to merely establish this fact is not enough. The danger drug-related crimes pose to the public surpasses the danger coming from other crimes. Drug-related crime is largely interrelated with various other kinds of crime and even merges with one of its most dangerous varieties such as organized crime. This becomes clear studying the dynamics of drug-related crimes. Central here are the drug users who represent a consumer of narcotics, and the ultimate target of drug trafficking - the sale of drugs. When people become dependent on drugs they concentrate all their efforts on getting drugs at any cost. They engage in criminal activities ranging from the cultivation of drug-bearing plants and the preparation of "stuff", to its sale.

Tendencies of Development

The number of drug users grows in direct proportion to the rise in crimes committed under the influence of narcotics and, in the long run, to the profits earned by the drug dealers. Hence, drug dealers seek to 1) expand the drug sales; 2) increase the output of drugs or receive more of them from medical and pharmaceutical centers; and, 3) further promote criminal activities connected to drugs. The latter seems to ensure the realization of the former. A high degree of organization paves the way for expanding drug sales, increasing the output and boosting drug trafficking.

Expanding Drug Sales

The expansion of drug sales is achieved by persuading more people to take drugs. Drug dealers set up drug pads and stores where narcotics are available. They try to advertise them in indirect ways. They make sure that more powerful drugs are continuously being developed.

In order to increase drug output drug-bearing plants are grown on remote plantations in regions with difficult access. Illegal shops and laboratories for developing new types of narcotics are set up there. Funds for increasing drug output are raised by blackmailing or bribing public officials. Drug-dealers practice violence, make threats against officials and encourage theft of large amounts of drugs.

Boosting the Level of Organization of the Illegal Drug Trafficking Business Methods to improve the level of organization include mergers of criminal groups and associations, severe disciplinary measures within criminal organizations, greater degree of cohesion among group members, conspiratorial rules, and tougher actions against those who violate the rules in such groups. Other methods are: increasing attempts to draw government officials into criminal groups, taking control of persons engaged in drug-related crimes on their own, centralizing finances and monopolizing drug prices.

According to various studies there are quite a few syndicates and cartels in the world who have divided drug trafficking regions among themselves. Activities of these groups are guided by a clear-cut system of criminal actions, such as promoting the sowing and cultivation of drug-bearing plants, the production of narcotics, their wholesale purchase, and the transportation and sales of drugs to consumers. Drug syndicates and cartels, for whom drug trafficking is the main source of income, act under the guise of legitimate companies, trying to come across as legal as possible. They have airplanes, modern weapons and the newest technology in their possession. Leaders of the criminal drug associations do their utmost to oppose the actions of law enforcement agencies[018]. With this purpose in mind, they not only try to check police actions but make attempts, successful at times, to infiltrate police ranks. Professional criminals deploy defense measures that may prove to be so effective in challenging the worthiness of surveillance of suspects and the bugging of their phones. United into cartels and syndicates and organizationally divided into groups and associations, drug- criminals are usually aware that they remain under constant surveillance. To ensure their personal safety they resort, as a rule, to various counter-surveillance measures, thus putting well-trained police officers in a difficult position. Experience shows that criminal groups usually keep the approaches to places where narcotics are turned over under their own close watch.

Ways to Legalize Drug Profits

Drug dealers seek not only to build up profits from drug trafficking but to legalize them as well. To that end they engage in criminal activities where by legal and illegal operations are inextricably intertwined. The money earned from the trade in narcotics is invested into legitimate businesses or in real estate. It may also be laundered in financial transactions, such as, the purchase of shares and securities or other newly invented and constantly perfected operations. The income thus obtained allows drug dealers not only to pour more money into drug trafficking or finance more drug-related crimes but also provides for a legal coverage of drug trade, or for the participation in legal activities. Speakers at the international seminar on combating organized crime in the Russian city of Suzdal in 1992 held in accord with the resolution of the 45th session of the UN General Assembly, pointed out that "in the majority of countries, organized crime developed along two directions: participating in prohibited activities (property crimes, money laundering, illegal drug trafficking, violation of hard currency transaction rules, intimidation, prostitution, gambling, trade in weapons and antiques) and joining legal business (directly or using such parasitical means as extortion. This participation in legal economic activities is always bent for the use of illegal competition methods and may have a greater economic impact compared to the involvement in totally illegal kinds of activity). In short, criminal methods are used in both cases leading to the situation in which criminal elements form the majority of organized criminal formations."[019]

Organized Narco-crime

Typically, drug cartels and syndicates are highly organized. Present in the organizations are: strict and precise distribution of functions; very rigid hierarchies; internal discipline maintained by interest, authority and force; stringent conspiracy; ramified networks of groups bound by firm organizational ties; branches existing and functioning in various countries; contacts with other criminal groups (counterfeiters, smugglers, murderers etc.); the use of professional criminals; the internationalization of group members; and, the use of violence to meet the desired ends. To protect their huge profits and spheres of interest, the subjects of narco-criminals stop at nothing and employ violent means, such as the contract murders of their rivals and of law enforcement agents. The money brought by the trade in drugs is often used to finance dangerous crimes and acts of terrorism. It becomes a source which finances subversive activities of all kinds. Profits obtained from the drugs trade make it possible to finance large-scale armed operations against government forces (like in Columbia or Mexico). Profit gained from the drug trade is often compared with the profits earned by whole industries. The drugs trade is regarded as the world's second largest economy[020]. All this enables drug dealers not only to pay generously for the participation in crimes but also to set up a common financial fund, a common bank, so to speak. Narco-money is also used to exert influence on policy-making, particularly, by nominating the associates of drug dealers to key posts in the economy and politics[021] or by bribing persons who already hold such posts and turning them into supporters of the drugs trade. These financial investments are reinforced by threats of violence against them or their close relatives (wives, children or parents). This proves convincingly that narco-crime is a well organized and well planned business incorporating the mutually inter-related criminal activities of individuals, groups, associations, syndicates and cartels with a division of mutually interrelated functions. This is the reason to regard this kind of crime as a variety of organized crime[022]. Some researchers believe that drug profits are the economic foundation of organized crime. This can be seen in comparison of elements forming narco- and organized crimes. To get a clear understanding of the elements of the latter it is necessary to look in retrospect at the history of organized crime. While crime and drug addiction have been known to the world for at least several centuries, the existence of organized crime has been officially recognized quite recently, only in this century. Yet both national and foreign researchers date the origin of this phenomenon, in one way or another, to a much earlier period.

Various stable criminal organizations used to appear and operate on territories of almost all modern states. Gangs of brigands and smugglers were at work not only on land but also at sea (sea pirates). They had in their possession caches of weapons, stocks of gold and food and, sometimes, entire fleets of pirate boats furnished with everything necessary for an attack and ready to go into combat with regular troops or ships. They thereby challenged borders and laws. Already at that time members of such gangs observed their own internal rules and traditions strictly, contrary to the ones obligatory in society. Among them there was the principle of mutual help, the recognition of the leaders' authority, the distribution of duties and spoils, as well as a system of reward and punishment. Gangsters knew exactly the kind of work they were responsible for and also knew their zones of influence (slave trade, cattle stealing, smuggling arms, narcotics, gold, diamonds, etc). They talked their own language and stuck to other conspiratorial rules. Taking hostages and bribing officials were their usual practices, very much like the actions of the present day organized crime groups.

With the passing of time, of course, these organizations kept transforming and modernizing, adjusting to changes of state borders, governments and economies. They were turning more and more into organized criminal associations that posed a serious threat to public safety, to the supremacy of the law and to other state institutions. As researchers point out, a particular danger of organized crime is that it becomes more and more arrogant, aggressive, ingenious and diverse. In the 1980s, organized crime became increasingly apparent throughout the world[023].

Forms of Organized Crime

Along with traditional forms of organized crime, new forms, more diverse and greater in scale, have appeared, such as the theft and re-sale of luxury cars, electronic equipment, historical and cultural art objects, antiques, icons and church plate. Other forms include the illegal trade in human being, weapons and ammunition, strategic raw materials, non-ferrous and rare metals, drugs counterfeiting, theft and forgery of credit cards, gambling, and infiltration of legal business and world finance. An analysis of documents issued by the UN Information Center proves that the influence of various forms of organized crime spreads far beyond national borders and "transnationalize crime", so to speak. This creates a situation which "differs, both qualitatively and quantitatively, from the situation in the past and hampers the accomplishment of effective measures aiming to prevent and eliminate crime"[024]. Experts believe that the evolution of organized crime should be seen as "a process providing for a rational reorganization on the international basis of criminal enterprises using the same patterns just as it is the case for legal enterprises." This process reflects tendencies for forming a more intricate organizational structure typical of the modern society in all countries[025]. This explains why the UN Secretary General pointed out in his speech at the 47th General Assembly session on September 28, 1992, that it was imperative to promote international cooperation and develop practical steps against organized crime in view of its negative impact on various areas of society's social, political and economic life. Though extremely topical, problems of organized crime have not yet been resolved properly by juridical theory and practice. Suffice it to say that there are still some countries where no laws on organized crime have yet been passed. There is no uniform approach to the concept of organized crime at the legislative level. The attributes and signs of this phenomenon have not yet been finalized. No attempts have yet been made to develop a comprehensive program of action against it. There are few statistics or official data on organized crime as a whole[026].

For example, in the former USSR the first official mention of organized crime made at the government level was on December 2, 1989, when the decision to step up the effort against organized crime was passed by the 2nd Congress of People's Deputies. However, no laws regarding organized crime have been adopted. This cold not help but leave its imprint on the practical activities of law enforcement agencies in the former Union republics. There was no solid theoretical discussion of the concept of organized crime, as the scarce publications of the last few years could hardly give a complete picture of this problem[027].

Some published works, however, contain a number of definitions of organized crime. Some authors point to the following basic features. Criminal groups based on hierarchial order consolidate within the borders of one particular region or a country, their leaders take no part in crimes but only perform organizational, managerial and ideological functions. Government officials , including law enforcement officers, become corrupt and join criminal activities providing safety to the members of criminal associations. These association have a tendency to monopolize and expand the spheres of illegal activities, and to protect leaders from bearing any responsibility[028]. Another group of authors believe that organized crime is a system of contacts forming naturally in the criminal surroundings which lead to the concentration and monopolization of certain kinds of criminal activities. Diversified ties between groups engaged in criminal activities are characteristic of this system[029].

About the Concept of Organized Crime

Organized crime represents the consolidated criminal associations with their own norms of behavior, hierarchical ladders and finances, it is the most dangerous kind of crime that opposes and counteracts the lawful actions of the state. This definition also embraces the totality of mercenary and economic crimes committed with the help of corrupt government officials, and law enforcement agents among them, who yielded to bribery and other forms of corruption[030].

Organized Crime in Foreign Legislation

In this context it is interesting to look at foreign experience in dealing with organized crime, particularly, in the field of legislation. The Italian criminal code states, for example, (article 416-2) that "the association of a mafia kind is ranked as a criminal one when its members practice the removal and intimidation of other persons in order to ensure a cover-up and observe the law of silence and thus make it possible to commit crimes, and win, directly or indirectly, posts allowing the management or control of business activities, the distribution of concessions and permits of all kinds, the signing of contracts, and communal services, as well as making illegal profits or securing illegal privileges for themselves and other persons." The American approach seems to be slightly different. While the Italian Criminal Code lists features of organized crime, American Federal Legislation (USC-par. 3781), though naming certain features of organized crime, attributes concrete actions to it, namely, "unlawful activities by members of a well-organized and disciplined association supplying illegal commodities and offering illegal services, which include but are not limited to, gambling, prostitution, usury, the spread of narcotics, racket and other unlawful actions by such organizations." Organized crime has broad opportunities for carrying out unlawful deeds but the choice of these opportunities is mainly determined by the level of expected profit, the minimum degree of possible risk of being caught and exposed and the absence of concrete victims. It is this particular factor that comes to the foreground in crimes related to narcotics whose users are not interested in reporting to the police. The specific choice of a "specialization" for this or another criminal group is a factor guaranteeing it, to a large degree, a high level of conspiracy and a free hand in committing crimes. Along with the previously-mentioned "specialization" of criminal associations there also exists what is termed as an "internal specialization", i.e. the division of labor among criminal association members.

Organized Crime and Drug Related Crime: Features in Common

These features include:

- clearly defined organizational and managerial structures with a hierarchy which ensures the protection of leaders from punishment since their actions usually remain outside the confines of the criminal code;

- uniform norms of behavior and responsibility;

- planned unlawful activities and common goals aimed at making large profits;

- a system aiming to neutralize all forms of legal control and development of counter measures;

- common finances invested in various areas of criminal activities, which are used for bribing the necessary people, providing material support to members of criminal associations and financing crimes;

- monopolization and expansion of areas of criminal activity, cooperation between criminal associations in various branches of a national economy, the introduction of commodities and services to the black market, exploitation of women through pornography, and prostitution;

- the use of legal methods to launder drug money[031].

In sum narcotics are a negative social phenomenon posing an extreme danger to society. This danger is expressed in such ill-effects as the destruction of people's health as a result of drug addiction, drug-related crimes, the totality of which forms an independent crime branch (narco-crime), and the ability to turn the most dangerous and well-organized part of narco-crime into a variety of organized crime.


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