There is a significant body of research that shows how economic decline, poor livelihood conditions and limited employment opportunities influence entry into retail drug distribution. Available research, however, neglects the lived experiences and accounts of these dynamics and how they inform exit from the trade, especially in African countries. This study explores the socio-economic context of entry and exit from retail drug distribution in Nigeria.
Data were gathered through in-depth interviews with 31 male retail drug dealers (aged 26-45 years) in Uyo, Nigeria. They were recruited via snowball sampling from diverse drug networks in the city. Recorded interviews were transcribed verbatim, and a framework approach was applied to code and analyse the data.
Most participants took up retail drug trade as a means of income generation under difficult socio-economic conditions. Others entered the trade as part of a youthful search for social autonomy or to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities, although economic conditions formed the wider backdrop of their choices. Participants’ social networks, including friends and relations, facilitated their entry into drug trade through linkages to suppliers. For many, the drug trade was seen as offering limited scope for social and economic mobility. This made them to aspire to quit the trade, with some seeing it as a pathway to legitimate livelihoods. Exit prospects were constrained by limited social support and entrenchment in the drug economy.
Since socio-economic conditions are central to both entry and exit from drug trade, these should form the focus of policies addressing retail drug distribution. A development-based approach to policy that seeks to guarantee social and economic rights through the realization of key sustainable development goals offer potential to curb retail drug distribution in Nigeria.