In a brief self-description, this work addresses the problems of illicit drug use and possible solutions. The structure is clear and original, as it includes an historical overview of drug use from the early 1800s to the 1960s, an analysis of use trends in the past 40 years and an examination of drug production, markets and institutional responses.
A key chapter offers an analytical framework within which the main arguments put forward by Adrian Barton should be understood. This is an excursus into some basic economic principles, allowing the author to examine the demand and supply of illicit drugs in terms of market mechanism.
Barton discusses the way demand-reduction measures can be centred on the costs of drugs, along with the economic strategies designed to tackle production. It would be unrealistic to expect from economic analysis a precise indication of the "optimal price" that would discourage consumers from purchasing drugs because demand is relatively inelastic - users will continue, to a degree, to buy substances irrespective of price.
The author is well aware of this when he warns that the clandestine character of the illicit drug market "inhibits our ability to obtain accurate information" and "to use economic theory to its fullest". In the final section of the book, where he reattempts an economic analysis of drug policies, this warning sounds all the more appropriate.
This informative book tries to draw together a large body of historical, sociological and criminological research. Barton is right to point out that his approach "occasionally sacrifices details to grasp the wider picture".
But I disagree with him when he balances this statement by arguing that his approach allows the reader "to gauge the complexities" of the problem.
This is a book based on other books, many of which, in turn, are based on other books. This reduces rather than conveys complexity: studies conducted ten years ago lose their edge, intuitions made in the past are overlooked or sanitised, original points emasculated and the names of some of the authors who conducted the studies or made the points are misspelt, including my own.
Vincenzo Ruggiero is professor of sociology, Middlesex University.
Illicit Drugs: Use and Control
Author - Adrian Barton
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 186
Price - £65.00 and £16.99
ISBN - 0 415 28171 7 and 28172 5