U.S. Drug Use Down, Crime Down: What’s the Link?

According to Reuters, drug use in the United States has fallen about 30% since 1979. Similarly, crime has fallen significantly in recent years. Could treating drugs as a public health issue further push the crime rate down? Experts and even government officials say yes.

“Tackling the drug issue could go a long way in reducing our crime issues,” said Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the National Drug Control Policy who recently issued a report linking drug use and criminality. “These data confirm that we must address our drug problem as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue,” he added.

According to the report from Kerlikowske’s office, an average of 71% of men arrested in 10 U.S. metropolitan areas tested positive for drugs when they were taken into custody. Twenty-three percent of violent crimes and property crimes were committed by people who tested positive.

While marijuana was the most commonly detected controlled substance in arrestees, cocaine came in second despite cocaine popularity (both powder and crack forms) declining dramatically in the past decade. In cities like New York and Chicago, cocaine use has dropped by half between 2000 and 2011.

The relationship between drugs and crime is said to be “complex,” but there’s little doubt that they are linked.

“Drugs impact things like inhibitory control. And our ability to weigh risks and consequences of certain behaviors is severely affected by drug use,” said National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Dr. Redonna Chandler.

By using such resources as drug courts and treatment for those offenders who test positive for controlled substances or who admit to having a drug problem, the crime rate may be encouraged even further downward.

Drug courts have gained ground in recent years as state officials have seen their positive impacts first hand. Currently there are around 2,600 such courts across the country. And while this figure is significant, there aren’t nearly enough to answer the call of all of those in need of their services.

Dr. Chandler reports that 5 million of 7 million Americans who are under some kind of court supervision would benefit from drug treatment. But only 7.6% of them are able to receive such treatment, whether due to funding, available programs, or willingness to rehabilitate.

Even in jurisdictions where drug courts are not available, there often exists other programming options to help those who are ready to get help. Not only can drug treatment save someone from the throes of addiction, it may be able to help them avoid jail time when they are accused of a criminal offense.

If you are facing drug possession charges, contact us today. We can put you in touch with a local attorney who will know what options you have and how to help you during this difficult time.


About David Matson

David writes about criminal justice issues.
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