Drug Dependence and Crime

With drug addiction continuously increasing throughout the nation, local law enforcement agencies are trying to understand and prevent this complex issue a bit better. These law enforcement officials suggest that dependence is perhaps the most common element that investigators and officers have to contend with when responding to local crime. They suggest that the drug dependence and crime are linked because drug abuse provides the motive for crimes such as theft, burglary, or even more serious, violent crimes.

Addiction Can Lead to a Number of Different Crimes

Most people imagine shoplifting, fraud, burglary, robbery and theft occur in order to get money to buy drugs. However, crime and illicit substance abuse are linked to a number of different crimes as well.

For example:

  • Drug and alcohol-related driving offenses.
  • People who commit violent crimes while under the influence, oftentimes alcohol. The majority of stabbings, manslaughter and murders are associated with alcohol intoxication. This also goes for half of the domestic violence cases throughout the country.
  • There are countless United States citizens every year convicted of drug offences. This can include being caught supplying or using narcotics.
  • Because the illicit substance trade is a lucrative business, clashes between dealers or rival gangs can lead to violence against one another and the community.

The Different Types of Drug or Alcohol Related Criminal Offenses

There are three types of drug and alcohol related crimes.

These include the following:

  • Alcohol and substance-defined – This means that the person violates the law regarding or providing the manufacture, distribution, use, or possession of alcohol and illicit substances. Examples may include providing alcohol to minors, production, sales, or distribution of illegal drugs, or illegal drug possession.
  • Alcohol and drug-related – These include violations of the law because someone is trying to get money to pay for drugs or alcohol or breaking the law because they are under the influence. Examples here may include violence against friends and family, stealing in order to nurse a habit, vandalism, fights, or a DWI charge.
  • Lifestyle – Law violations directly related to living a lifestyle where the person may not have a source of income or job and is repeatedly exposed to individuals and situations that promote crime. Examples include relationships developed through the use of illicit substances, meaning the user has more chances to violate the law and learn illegal skills from other offenders.

Arrestees Frequently Test Positive for Substance Abuse

The Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) Program from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) measures positive urine tests for illicit substance use among arrestees. They collect the data anonymously and voluntarily in select cities across the United States at the time of arrest in booking facilities. Data from 1998 among male arrestees spread throughout 35 cities showed that many of the arrestees tested positive for illicit substances. This ranged as high as 78.7 percent of all arrestees in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 42.5 percent in Anchorage, Alaska. Those charged with sales or possession of controlled substances were among those most likely to test positive. Among female arrestees, the common crimes arrested included the two previous charges but also included prostitution.

Prescription Medication Making Matters Worse

Making the situation even more difficult to deal with is the increase in the abuse of prescription drugs; not only because these are dangerous and can lead to physical and/or mental problems, but also because the abuse of prescription medication can lead to the use of dangerous street drugs. According to law enforcement and addiction specialists, the main reason that these substances have seen such a dramatic increase in use is because many young adults view them as ‘safer’ than heroin and cocaine. Add in the fact that these substances are freely available because of leftovers from previous surgeries or injuries and you understand why this is such a dangerous trend.

While these young adults may be getting their drugs out of bathroom medicine cabinets as long as possible, oftentimes it does not end there. Once the supply of painkillers dry up, the users, many of them now dependent on these substances, have to find a different way to feed their addiction. For some this means paying a high price for prescription medication on the street, for others, they turn to cheaper alternatives such as cocaine and heroin to fill that void.

What We Can Do About Drug Dependence and Crime

Especially with the recent introduction of prescription painkiller abuse, most officials and addiction experts agree that the best way to combat addiction is not to enforce stricter penalties, but to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place. This means better education and more options for those who are currently struggling with addiction. Because of the abuse of prescription opioid medication, the profile for the average user is different. The users are younger and come from comfortable, stable family backgrounds. By offering help instead of punishing someone with serious problems, it is undoubtedly true that we would be able to reduce the impact on society while simultaneously helping those who could use it. After all, we already have studies readily available that make it clear that it works better for all parties involved.

What We Must Keep in Mind About Drug Dependence and Crime

We have to remember that the relationship between drug dependence and crime is not as easy to understand as some people suggest. The triangular relationship between the behavior, a product, and the person is a complex one; there is no single formula that we can use to determine it, regardless of how appealing that prospect might be. We have to be sure not to oversimplify matters because it would provide counterproductive data and procedures.

What is clear is that our drug intervention policy needs to change considerably. If the policy does not treat every factor that contributes to drug dependence and crime, it would only lead to ineffective policies. This means that you cannot simply arrest someone or take them out of a bad situation; you have to give them the tools to make a better life for themselves, to overcome their struggles with drug dependence and crime. Otherwise, any policy we implement is doomed to fail from the start.

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