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.