Exploitation of vulnerable young people for drug crimes

In this project, we explore the different exploitation dynamics, which can drive vulnerable youths into and keep them in drug related crimes such as storing, transporting and selling illegal drugs.


This project aims to create new knowledge and insights into the diverse and complex exploitation mechanisms that can drive young people into and/or keep them in drug related crimes, as well as map the physical and mental abuse they experience in this process.


In 2020, Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research conducted a questionnaire-based trendspotter study, which showed that the exploitation of vulnerable young people for drug related crimes has gone from being a sporadic to a systematic trait of the Danish illegal drug market. That criminals exploit vulnerable youths for drug related crimes is not a new phenomenon. However, three structural factors have made this a growing problem.

  1. The illegal drug market has become increasingly fragmented and more competitive, why more criminal groups try to recruit vulnerable young people to deal illicit drugs in an attempt to gain bigger market shares.
  2. Recent decades have seen the emergence and spread of new and more labor-intensive sales methods, where dealers offer delivery of drugs to customers. This has created a situation in which senior criminals are in need of a larger workforce of young helpers to bring out drugs.
  3. More young people are growing up in relative poverty, and more are living as homeless, which has made researchers and professionals working with vulnerable youths express a growing concern that more young people have become easier targets for criminals to exploit.

In Denmark, however, there is currently a lack of in-depth qualitative knowledge about how vulnerable young people become exploited for drug related crimes. Against this background, this study will examine the exploitation dynamics that might both drive young people into and keep them in drug related crimes.

The Study

We will conduct qualitative interviews with 40 vulnerable young people aged 15-25, who have first-hand experience with selling, transporting and/or storing illegal drugs for others. The interviews will, amongst other things, explore: 

  • The exploitation dynamics that drive and keep young people in drug related crimes.
  • The psychical and mental abuse the young people might experience in this process.
  • To what extent, and in which situations, the young people perceive themselves as exploited.
  • Which barriers might hinder exploited youths from seeking help from the authorities.

The project will take place from August 2021 to August 2032


The project is funded by Helsefonden.