Reducing Drug Related Crime: An Overview of the Global Evidence

This report presents an overview of the global evidence on the reduction of drug-related crime. Its main findings are:

  • Many current claims on drug-related crime overstate the amount of crime that is caused by drug use and the precision of our knowledge of this link.
  • The link between crime and drug use is complex. Many persistent offenders frequently use illicit drugs, and drug dependence may amplify offending. However, both crime and problematic drug use are linked to other factors, including socio-economic deprivation.
  • Activities that reduce the overall levels of crime and problematic drug use have the greatest scope for reducing drug-related crime, so the solutions to drug-related crime will involve wider social and economic policies.
  • We propose the following model for the reduction of drug related crime
    • Primary – universal approaches that aim to prevent drug-related crime before it occurs.
    • Secondary – approaches that focus on those people who are most at risk of perpetration of drug-related crime.
    • Tertiary – approaches that focus on people who have already committed drug-related crime.
  • Within this model, we provide a simplified matrix, based on summaries of the international evidence, of policies and programmes that are more or less likely to be cost-effective in reducing drug-related crime.

This report represented a breakthrough in terms of understanding the relationship between drug policy/legislation and criminality. It concluded that, while the evidence was still developing, the primary approach employed by governments to deal with drug-related crime was a failure. The publication highlighted how both dependent users and criminal organisations/networks quickly accommodate to counterbalance the potential beneficial effects that increased law enforcement might have, and assessed the collateral damage that such initiatives entail. Indeed, instead of reducing the market, tightened law enforcement led to increases in criminal activity and criminal profits. Instead, the authors suggest that the evidence supports the idea of high-quality prevention and treatment programmes, as well as policy reform, as more efficient and cost-effective ways to address drug-related crime.