• Journal Article

Researching a local heroin market as a complex adaptive system


Hoffer, L. D., Bobashev, G., & Morris, R. (2009). Researching a local heroin market as a complex adaptive system. American Journal of Community Psychology, 44(3-4), 273-286. DOI: 10.1007/s10464-009-9268-2


This project applies agent-based modeling (ABM) techniques to better understand the operation, organization, and structure of a local heroin market. The simulation detailed was developed using data from an 18-month ethnographic case study. The original research, collected in Denver, CO during the 1990s, represents the historic account of users and dealers who operated in the Larimer area heroin market. Working together, the authors studied the behaviors of customers, private dealers, street-sellers, brokers, and the police, reflecting the core elements pertaining to how the market operated. After evaluating the logical consistency between the data and agent behaviors, simulations scaled-up interactions to observe their aggregated outcomes. While the concept and findings from this study remain experimental, these methods represent a novel way in which to understand illicit drug markets and the dynamic adaptations and outcomes they generate. Extensions of this research perspective, as well as its strengths and limitations, are discussed.