Cocaine price map highlights flow of drugs through US (Wired UK)




An economist has built a map of US drug prices, which he says could help law enforcement
identify how it’s trafficked from city to city.

The work by an economist at Michigan State University, Siddharth
Chandra, generally supports known theories about drug
trafficking in the US, but he says it also delivers key new routes
not already identified and could be a great tool for

The study focussed solely on cocaine trafficking, and used
statistics publicly available and published by the National Drug
Intelligence Centre (NDIC) of the US Department of Justice. As an
economist, Chandra focussed solely on cost. All the DOJ data refers
to the wholesale prices of powdered cocaine, as gathered by
officers during arrests and subsequent interrogations. He looked at
data from 112 cities, gathered between 2002 and 2011, and looked
for links between 6,126 pairs of cities.

The basic premise is that source cities, where the drugs are
coming into the country, will have the lowest wholesale prices. As
it moves towards its final destination, the price rises. If there
is an unexpected peak in costs at the source, say, because of a
shortage, that will make the final end price far higher. It will
also show which cities are most dependant on that particular source
or route. Using this structure, Chandra analysed the general flow
of cocaine through the country, as well as the price structure so
that he could identify a location as a “source”, “destination”,
“transit”, or “isolate” city.

The analysis showed, as was expected, that “cities in the south
and west have the lowest prices, and there is an upward gradient as
one moves from the south and west to the north and east”.

Source cities were shown to be located along the southern border
and west coast up to Washington state. But Chicago stood out like a
sore thumb. Chandra writes in an article published in the
Journal of Drug Issues that data showing Chicago to be a
hub suggests “that the cocaine traffic has made inroads into the
heart of the Midwest”.

“There are a variety of reasons that this may be the case,
including the city’s long history of organised crime and the
cultural affinity of segments of the growing Spanish-speaking
population with links to Mexico, a factor that has been identified
in the context of trans-Atlantic cocaine flows.” It’s a pretty
broad interpretation, but then, Chandra is an economist and is
merely presenting the facts — everything else is theorising and

City status based on the combination of outward and inward links classification determined by cluster analysis.

Another area joins Chicago in letting down the northern side,
“by virtue of their status not conforming to the status of other
cities in their neighbourhood”, the second-largest city in

“Chicago and New Haven, both‚Ķ appear to have stronger properties
of a source city than their neighbours. This suggests that
shipments of cocaine arrive in these cities before being dispersed
in their respective regions. Therefore, they can be characterised
as regional hubs for cocaine trafficking.” Atlanta was also shown
to be a trafficking hub.

A few key points not already pulled out in route maps developed
by the NDIC include Kansas City being identified as having
“source-like” properties, making it an important link in the
drug-chain, and Jacksonville in Florida and Baltimore in Maryland
both exhibiting “transit-like” properties. Newark, Philadelphia and
Washington were all previously classed as “unintegrated”, but
Chandra’s report found they had “destination-like” properties,
“with more than 20 inferred inward links each”.

“The reclassification of these cities as destinations would
expand the cluster of ‘destination’ cities in the northeastern
United States into a contiguous region to the south.”

If we could develop maps like Chandra’s in realtime, inputting
data on costs as they flow into the law enforcement system, new
routes and temporary rerouting cities could be identified and human
resources dispersed to battle it accordingly,

“As an economist, the big takeaway is that prices carry some
valuable information about trafficking in illegal goods,” said

“These data enable us to identify suspected links between cities
that may have escaped the attention of drug enforcement
authorities. By identifying patterns and locations, drug policy and
enforcement agencies could provide valuable assistance to federal,
state and local governments in their decisions on where and how to
allocate limited law enforcement resources to mitigate the cocaine

The data does not account for drugs coming in by air or water,
Chandra concedes, and is totally reliant on those arrested telling
the truth to police officers during investigations. It also does
not account for those not arrested operating separate networks that
affect prices.



Nevertheless, Chandra suggests the model could be used for other
drugs being trafficked in the US, which the NDIC holds price
information on. This includes heroin, MDMA and methamphetamine.

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20 June 2014 | 9:45 am – Source:

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