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Research Assistant - Network Disruptions in Illicit and Counterfeit Medicines Trade

The RA will employ a mixed-methods approach: detailed review of cases, reports, and studies in six languages (provided by our stakeholders), and qualitative analysis of data provided by our law enforcement, financial, and pharmaceutical industry partners. This study will yield a more solid understanding of how these illicit networks operate, how they can exploit criminogenic asymmetries, and regulatory breakdowns or weaknesses and will enable the research team to establish indicators of criminal networks activity and key nodes that may be detected and targeted through the tools under development by our computer and pharmaceutical science colleagues. This work will also assist in developing better control recommendations prepared through activities under control and mitigation below.

Task 1a.1: We will analyze criminogenic asymmetries to identify contributing factors for crime opportunities, motives to exploit such opportunities, and control weaknesses. Collect information to document asymmetries associated with international trade, lockdowns and supply chain disruptions, differential access to treatments or vaccines in demand, [de-]globalization, geopolitics, diverse state capacities and critical infrastructures, nationalist and protectionist trends, differential commitment to international standards [49]. We will point to asymmetries springing from domestic issues, such as policy and legal differences (e.g., federal vs. state approaches), competition, health emergencies/disease outbreaks, natural disasters or conflicts raising medical needs, political disagreements, etc. The objective will be to identify factors contributing to differential commitment to relevant rules and standards (e.g., concerning compliance with social distancing measures, mask-wearing measures, travel bans).

Task 1a.2: Special focus on dysnomic situations with “crimes without lawbreaking”. Dysnomie occurs due to (i) an absence of a widely accepted transnational normative framework to regulate cross-border activities, and (ii) inconsistent or conflicting provisions apply to the same situation. This is a facilitative environment for illegal activities as the same act may be criminal in one jurisdiction but allowed in another. Savvy criminal entrepreneurs can compartmentalize operations in ways that achieve illegal ends without violating applicable rules (see also PI-NP work on “lawful but awful” practices). As geopolitics, conflicting national or commercial interests, emergencies, and other factors produce a regulatory patchwork regarding medical products in short supply. We will document legal asymmetries that potentially enable illicit supply chains to operate with impunity or, conversely, lead to state actions that may violate international law (e.g., sanctions, piracy, or other standards).

  • Location:


  • Semester:

    Spring 2024, Summer 2024


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  • Project Title

    Network Disruptions in Illicit and Counterfeit Medicines Trade

  • Faculty / Project Lead

    Nikos Passas

  • Project Description

    The concept of an illicit supply network refers to a set of actors and intermediaries connecting the various nodes up and down a supply chain that violates national or international laws. Passas’ work indicates that illicit supply networks can arise due to various structural disjunctions or “criminogenic asymmetries.” It is thus crucial to comprehend the circumstances, motives, and control challenges behind their formation to disrupt such supply chains effectively. Hence, we seek to explore the following open research questions: (i) What are the multiplex networks (multi-layer networks with different types of links) underlying illicit medical product trade? (ii) What multiplex network parameters can be learned from current practice for detecting and disrupting illicit networks? (iii) How can “weak links” be discovered in these networks to allow for rapid intervention?

  • Qualifications Necessary

    The RA must be at the PhD level familiar with the criminological literature on illicit flows (esp. on criminogenic asymmetries, legal-illegal actor interfaces in financial/organized crime, lawful but awful corporate practices and global anomie theory), have both qualitative and quantitative skills, experience in legal research and analysis, and must have inter-disciplinary interests (esp. with AI/computer sciences, health science). Ability to read literature in other languages is an advantage. The successful candidate will begin in the spring of 2024 and will continue in this project for 3.5 years - supported by our NSF grant.

  • Hours per Week

    20 Hour Position