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Treating Drug Use as Public Health Issue Could Lower Crime Rate: Report


A new government report suggests that treating drug use as a public health issue could lead to reduced crime rates. The annual report by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy finds illegal drugs play a central role in criminal acts.

The report showed a decline in cocaine use since 2003, which indicates that law enforcement efforts and public education campaigns may be having an effect, according to Reuters. Illegal drug use overall has decreased about 30 percent since 1979, the article notes.

An average of 71 percent of men arrested in 10 U.S. metropolitan areas in 2011 tested positive for an illegal substance when they were taken into custody, the study found. The rates ranged from 64 percent in Atlanta, to 81 percent in Sacramento, California. These rates were higher for almost half of the collection sites since 2007.

Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy, said the findings support the White House strategy designed to break the cycle of drugs and crime by focusing on treatment for substance abuse, instead of jail, for nonviolent offenders. “Tackling the drug issue could go a long way in reducing our crime issues,” he told Reuters. “These data confirm that we must address our drug problem as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue.”

About 23 percent of violent crimes and property crimes were committed by people who tested positive for at least one of 10 illegal drugs. Marijuana was the most common drug found among those arrested, followed by cocaine. Use of cocaine dropped by half in major cities such as Chicago and New York from 2000 to 2011.

10 Responses to this article

  1. Ken Wolski / May 24, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Kerlikowske said, “…we must address our drug problem as a public health issue.” Meanwhile we continue to arrest almost 900,000 Americans for marijuana offenses each year. So when will that public health stuff start?

  2. Avatar of Dick Dillon
    Dick Dillon / May 20, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    William Glasser wrote about this quite some time ago in his booklet “Defining mental Health as a Public Health Problem”.

    He also recognized that the approach would not go down well with the established order, focusing more on “Big Pharma” than the law enforcement/corrections industry, but Jill is correct that public health approaches work better when they are “upstream” and Grainne is also accurate in noting that being “soft on crime” is not a workable strategy on the whole, particularly for elected officials.
    It is just possible that the people who should be most interested in this solution (treatment providers) need to decouple themselves from their intensive partnerships with corrections/law enforcement, if a public health approach is to be possible. As long as treatment professionals rely on referrals from the courts and are willing to accept clients who are seeking help primarily as an avoidance to punishment of other sorts, it will be hard for them to also support a public health approach. Good treatment providers should be able to make the case that seeking help has intrinsic benefits whether or not there is an impact on crime and punishment.

  3. Avatar of Jill
    Jill / May 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    great article and probably a good approach. Unfortunately, public health is mostly about preventing drug addiction in the first place…not treatment of those already addicted – If you would really like to use the public health approach, you would go further up stream…reducing the age of onset, decreasing availability, and addressing social norms surrounding use.

  4. Luis Lozano / May 17, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    did they just figure this out? I wonder how much money was spent figuring out that keeping drugs illegal leads to higher crime. I thought they realized this after Prohibition. Then you wonder why people complain about our wasted tax dollars.

  5. Bill Poel / May 17, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    As a corrections professional for over 32 years, I’d be very interested in how the government “statistics” are arrived at, especially since sa treatment in the U.S. has serious issues.

  6. perryrants / May 17, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    About 23 percent of violent crimes and property crimes were committed by people who tested positive for at least one of 10 illegal drugs.

    ok, so what about the other 77%?

  7. Grainne Kenny / May 17, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Treating drug abuse as a public health issue has been the war cry of pro drug activists including the so called Global Commission on Drugs. It is a very slippery slope. Drug Courts, residential treatment units and family support and counselling need to be strengthened to reduce the crime rate. That should not mean any softening of laws that protect the public from what is a public nuisence offence that sometimes has catastropic consequences for both the drug user and his/her victim. When laws are softened lines are blurred. Probation reports and case reviews can serve to keep a recalcitrant offender within the law. But prison should be the bottom line of justice available to the court when all else fails.

  8. Rob Fleming / May 17, 2012 at 11:48 am

    the report cited is probably the ADAM (Arrested Drug Abuse Monitoring) II report for 2011, just released at
    Aside from the national policy implications, it contains useful statistics on 10 cities that may be useful for advocates in those cities in making their case for more treatment and recovery services.

  9. Lisa Frederiksen - / May 17, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Absolutely! Given addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease, it’s important to treat this brain disease in accordance with the disease treatment model in order to prevent the relapse, which is what leads to crime.

  10. Doug / June 20, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Right after private prisons and other lobbyists are thrown out of Washington, DC. In other words, not in my lifetime. Sigh.

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