Drugs and Crime

The connection between drugs and crime is reflected in at least three types of crimes:

  • Drug‐defined crimes, such as the possession, use, or sale of controlled substances, which violates drug laws.

  • Crimes committed by drug users to get money to buy more drugs or crimes committed by persons under the influence of drugs.

  • Organized criminal activities, such as money laundering and political corruption, in support of the drug trade.

Crime is associated with drug use, but drugs usually don't cause crime. First, only a small percentage of burglaries and robberies are drug related. Second, studies of high‐rate offenders show that many of them began their criminal careers before using drugs. Most experts agree that even if we could succeed in eliminating drug abuse, there would be only a small reduction in robberies, burglaries, and similar crimes.

The amount of illegal drug use

The 1995 National Household Survey (which collects self‐reported information from 4,000 to 9,000 individuals each year) indicates that drug use has declined but that illegal drug use among teenagers (ages 12–17) increased from 1990 to 1995. A second survey, the 1995 Drug Use Forecasting (DUF) program (which collects urine specimens and self‐reported data on drug use from arrested persons) reports that a majority of male arrestees in U.S. cities tested positive for drugs.

Drug laws

The first major drug law, the Harrison Act (1914), required persons dealing in opium, morphine, heroin, cocaine, and derivatives of these drugs to register with the federal government. The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (1970) forms the basis of federal enforcement efforts today. This law sets up five schedules which classify narcotic drugs according to the abuse potential. In 1988, the U.S. Republican leadership stepped up the war on drugs. It passed the Anti‐Drug Abuse Act, which substantially increased the penalties for recreational drug users. Other important federal drug laws include the Crime Control Act (1990) and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (1994). The former doubled the appropriations to state and local communities for drug enforcement and created drug‐free school zones by increasing penalties for drug crimes occurring close to schools. The latter provided $245 million for rural anti‐crime and drug efforts.

Alcohol abuse and crime

Even though the abuse of alcohol is rarely discussed in the same terms as the use of controlled substances, alcohol abuse has serious consequences for abusers as well as the criminal justice system. First, alcohol is often a factor in the commission of crimes, drunk driving being a prime example. Sometimes the use of alcohol lowers inhibitions and leads to other, serious crimes, such as criminal assaults. Second, the processing of alcohol‐related crimes consumes large amounts of criminal justice resources. For example, between 1970 and 1992 arrests for drunk driving soared 200 percent across the United States. Today, police make about one million drunk driving arrests annually, more arrests than for any other crime except drug abuse and larceny‐theft. In 1996 police made about 500,000 arrests for public drunkenness, another crime related to alcohol abuse.