1 Fenrim

Causal Links Between Drugs And Crime Essays


Recent drug policy in the UK has been shaped by the general presumption that drug addiction is a key contributory factor to rising crime. The literature review demonstrates that whilst empirical evidence clearly supports a link between drugs and crime, the use of drugs is one part of a complex process contributing to criminal behaviour. Furthermore, this analysis demonstrates that the underlying weakness in asserting that drugs cause crime under the economic cause and effect model ignores the root question of causality. This impacts effective policy measures to combat drugs in crime, which is further evidenced by the DTTO measures. It is submitted in this paper that further research is needed to develop and explore concepts of causality in order to truly understand the nature of the link between drugs and crime.


A central theme in recent UK drug policy debate has focused on the widespread notion that drug addiction is a critical causal factor in crime, with considerable concern about the link between drugs and violent crime in the urban drug market (Bennett, T., & Holloway, K., (2005). Indeed, the correlation between drugs and crime has contributed to “an increasingly strong hold on UK drug policy” (Audit Commission 2002). The last Conservative government’s drug strategy outlined in its white paper “Tackling Drugs Together” (1997) the reduction of drug fuelled crime as a key objective shaping policy recommendations going forward. This followed through into Labour Government policy with the introduction of the Drug Treatment and Testing Order (DTTO) in 2000.

From a social policy perspective, an understanding of the relationship between drug abuse and crime is vital due to its resultant impact on both criminal justice and drug policy. Variances in propounded conceptions of the correlation between drugs and crime underlie the polarised debate regarding every aspect of the criminal justice system from treatment, prevention, enforcement, drug legalisation, sentencing policy and strategy development for local policing (Seddon 2000). However, it is submitted that the nature of the drug crime link remains unclear from empirical research available and a further evaluation of criminological theorem is needed before further social policy initiatives are implemented.

Whilst the obvious and short term response from empirical research unequivocally points to a direct link between drug addiction and crime, it “cannot be assumed that the correlation proves causation” (Califano 1997). Furthermore, to simply assert that drugs cause crime ignores the reality that “with little or no funds, addiction that is compulsive beyond the realms that any non-addict can truly comprehend requires feeding” (Califano 1997). Accordingly, the nature of the addiction itself is a significant causal trigger, which arguably predisposes a user to finding the necessary monies through crime to “feed” their habit (Seddon 2000).

However, the trend in empirical research is to often consider the drug crime relationship within stereotypical models arguably limiting the outcome of research to the obvious answer that drugs cause crime. However, it is submitted that this assumption needs to be evaluated to truly understand the “link” between drugs and crime. The broader studies clearly raise the question as to whether it is the drugs that actually cause crime, or whether criminals are attracted to drugs (Bennett, T., & Holloway, K., 2005). The focus of this analysis is to evaluate the complex causal factors within the drug crime relationship and highlight the point that distinctions need to be made between the fact that whilst there is clearly a link between drugs and crime on the one hand, the separate issue of causality between the two on the other, needs to be examined further from a criminological perspective.

The concern regarding links between drug use and crime has become the focus of debate within the drug/crime relationship model, utilised as a basis to justify implementation of political strategies to treat problematic drug use to reduce the effect of the link (Bennett, T., & Holloway, K., (2005)). As stated above, the Government implemented the Drug Testing and Treatment Order (DTTO) in 2000. However, this Order has been superseded by the Drug Rehabilitation Requirement which is attached to a community order in sentencing, and is intended to operate as the “primary criminal justice response to this concern”(Criminal Justice System Online 2005). The new “Rehabilitation Requirement” was introduced in April 2005 and as such, limited information is available about its impact and this dissertation will focus on a discussion of the DTTO as an example of the practical impact in criminal justice of the current understanding of the correlation between drugs and crime.

Indeed in this context, South (2002) proposed two key criminological questions concerning treatment of offenders which are relevant to the drug crime link:

1) What kinds of treatment are most effective in reducing dependence on the illegal drug supply market; and

2) Which treatments are most effective in reducing crimes undertaken to facilitate finances for the acquisition of illicit substances? (2002, p.931).

It is argued that these questions go to the root of efficacy of the criminal justice system for society in terms of crime (South 2002). The response to these criminological theories has fuelled initiatives such as the UK Drugs Strategy (Home Office 2002) which in turn established the DTTO implemented pursuant to provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. It was commented that the nature of the Order was timely in context of research indicating that increased used of Heroin and Cocaine in particular is directly linked to crime (Turnbull 1999, 2000 Gossop et al 2001, Fowler 2002, National Audit Office 2004).

Accordingly, the discussion of the DTTO is relevant to assess whether the current understanding and justifications for the Order “effectively implements crucial aspects of the drug/crime relationship” (Gossop et al., 2001), by assessing criminological theorem, utilising the research methodology format set out in Section 3.

The initial objective of this paper is to amalgamate current appreciation of the link between drug and crime by reviewing the literature and further utilise criminological theory to identify problem areas. Furthermore, in using the literature review as a starting point, I will consider theoretical and methodological issues concerning causality with a discussion of practical examples to further evaluate the nature of the link between crime and drugs, which clearly impacts policy recommendations.

The focus of the literature review will refer to UK and European literature, with a comparative analysis with US perspective.


The most common and prominent feature of research into the drug-crime relationship commences with the initial action of consumption as a starting point. This is in fact evidenced in the UK Misuse of Drugs Act (1971), which prohibits production, supply, preparation and possession of illicit substances. Whilst the legal framework criminalizes the act of consumption and possession, it ignores the reality that a measured consideration of the relationship between drugs and crime extends beyond act of consumption (Yacoubian & Kane 1998). Research into the drug/crime relationship can be traced “throughout history” (Yacoubian & Kane 1998) though the first meaningful consideration is arguably “the research initiatives in America in late 1960s and 1970s” (Yacoubian & Kane 1998). For example, the studies of Chambers and Inciardi considered drug finance support mechanisms for female drug addicts (1971).

The proliferation of research into the drug crime relationship continued in the 1980s culminating in Goldstein (1985) propounding the “economic compulsive” criminological theory for explaining the correlation between drugs and crime. However, it was not until the 1990s that the debate was addressed officially in the UK (Seddon 2000). The political motivations behind a move towards a coherent drug strategy was evidenced in the Conservative Government white paper “Taking Drugs Together” (1997), which acknowledged the importance of the drug/crime relationship in shaping treatment initiatives in sentencing (HMIP 1997). It has been argued that this official focus on the drug crime relationship facilitated implementation of the DTTO. However, the Order itself has been criticised for being politically motivated:

“A political decision had been reached rather than a criminological one” (Bean 2002 79)

Clearly politically motivated initiatives are inherently restricted by focused considerations within the confines of Government strategy and in this context, appear to ignore criminological thinking upon the drug-crime connection, which by its very nature question the efficacy of any policy recommended initiatives. The criminological perspective is clearly more complex than DTTO considerations (Bennett, T., & Holloway, K., (2005) which is further evidenced by the literature review.

Overall, there is a clear consensus in literature that there is a strong correlation between both non-recreational and recreational drug use and crime (Seddon 2000). However the issue of causality has created disagreement as to the scope of the link, leading to the evolution of three central models of the relationship between drugs and crime:

1) drug use leads to crime;

2) crime leads to drug use;

3) both crime and drug use are related to other factors (Seddon 2000).

Furthermore, Brochu and Brunelle (1997) have commented that there are two persistent themes in literature; namely, the correlation of drug use and crime (which comes within the three propounded models in criminological) and the causality of this link.

Welte and Zhang et al argued that “the correlations of high levels of drug use and crime is “one of the most reliable results obtainable in criminology” (2001). The Home Office Drug Strategy (2005) found that this was evident at every stage of the criminal justice system (Home Office: 2005). However, research also highlighted that many people used drugs that didn’t commit crimes and crimes were also committed by a significant proportion who never actually consumed drugs (Barre 1997, Brochu, Cournoyer et al. 1999: Hough 2002; Nationale Drugmonitor 2002; Meijer, Grapendaal et al. 2003).

Focused studies of criminal justice populations have also considered the nature and extent of drug use. This research indicates that a high proportion of offenders have used drugs in a recent time period to the commission of crime. For example, studies in the USA, Australia and the UK have found average rates of between 63% and 69% among arrestees for of positive urine tests (Bennett 2000; McKegany, Connelly et al. 2000; Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program 2002; Fitzgerald and Chilvers 2002). Furthermore, In a survey of registered crimes between 1993 and 1995 in the Netherlands, 15.1% of crimes were found to have been committed by “hard drug” users, 1.6% by users of soft drugs and 75.1% by people who had not used soft drugs (NDM, 2002: Meijer et al, 2003). This further undermines the simple assertion that “drugs cause crime” and highlights the importance of the physiological effect of the component of the particular type of drug, especially when compared with the fact that use of “hard” drugs across the general population was found to be between 0.5 to 1% (NDM ,2002: Meijer et al, 2003).

Prison studies of the developed world have also demonstrated a trend of higher rates of drug use among sample offenders contrasted with percentages for the general population. For example, in 2001, 27% of the Italian prison population were labelled as drug dependent (Ministero della Giustzia 2001). Furthermore, 29 per cent of Swiss prisoners were found to be regular users of Heroin or Cocaine in 1993, compared to use amongst the general population of equivalent poly-drugs at 0.5% (Koller 1997). Additionally, between a third and half of prisoners in Canada and France were also estimated to be drug dependant (Brochu and Guyon 1994, Facy, Chevy et al, 1997; Jean 1997). Whilst the percentage proportions are clearly variable between prisons and jurisdictions, there is a general consensus in studies across Europe indicating that prisoners have a much higher rate of drug use compared with figures for the general population (EMCDDA 2002). Moreover, other comparative studies of criminal justice populations in the UK and USA demonstrated that a significant proportion of those on probation are also drug users compared to estimates of the general population (Mumola Bonczar 1998: Hearnden 2000).

The studies of drug treatment populations therefore appear to confirm the correlation between dependant drug use and heightened criminal activity (Anglin & Speckart 1988; Nurco, Hanlon et al. 1991; Bell, Hall et al. 1992; Brecht, Anglin et al, 1993; Laflamme-Cusson, Guyon et al, 1994). Furthermore, the pattern towards increased criminal activity appears to be dependant on different types of drug use, which in turn shapes different patterns of crime. These varying patterns have led to suggestions that Heroin is linked more to property crimes, while violence is more frequently associated with Cocaine and Amphetamine (McBride and McCoy 1993). Conversely, the consumption of “soft drugs” such as cannabis and marijuana appears to be rarely linked to other criminal activity and increased criminal behaviour (McBride and McCoy 1993).

Despite the apparent statistical link between drug use (particularly in context of poly-drug use) and criminal activity, the debate regarding the “nature of the link between drugs and crime” continues and remains unresolved (Seddon 2000). Many explanations have been propounded including the assertion that dependant drug users commit crime to actually fund their habit (Ball, Rosen et al. 1981; Goldstein 1985; Parker and Newcombe 1987; Parker and Bottomley 1996). This appears to be further supported by official measures implemented under German law, which even has a separate category in its criminal justice framework targeted at “direct crimes in the pursuit of drug addiction” (Bundeskriminalamt 2001). Alternatively, drug use may also lead to “changes in the brain that make people more likely to commit crimes” (Goldstein 1985; Amen, Yantis et al. 1997; Lavine 1997; Sinha and Easton 1999, Snenghi and Montisci 2000). Furthermore, the prohibition of drug consumption inherently encourages the creation of an illegal market that is regulated by violence (Zahn 1980; Goldstein 1985; Stuntz 1998; Resignato 2000) and crime provides an income that enables frequent use of drugs, which in turn exposes users to direct contact with a “deviant subculture which involves crime” (Newcomb, Galaif et al 2001); Another variable propounded is that drug use and crime are common elements of an individual “choice” to follow a deviant career (Kruezer, Harrosn)

Goldstein (1985) further developed the dependency theory by suggesting three explanations of the drug/crime relationship headed as “psychopharmacological”, “economic-compulsive” and “systemic”. These explanations vary according to the type of crimes that are connected to use. For example, the three theories cover illicit drug use and other substance abuse such as alcohol. Goldstein’s Psychopharmacological explanations focus on violent behaviour as being directly linked to the use of drugs and subsequently with criminal activity. Systemic explanations focus on “drug markets and distribution of drugs via networks in line with the notion of drugs facilitating a “deviant subculture” leading to crime” (Goldstein 1985). As such, these explanations are vital in highlighting the complexity in the drug crime relationship as the type of drug abuse is clearly central to the variances in criminal behaviour and criminal activity covered by the criminal justice system (Seddon 2000).

Goldstein’s economic compulsive theory of the correlative link between drugs and crime is the most common causal explanation cited by researchers and the media to justify the proposition that “drugs cause crime” (Bean 2004). The foundation of the theory is rooted in the premise that drug users commit crimes to fund their habits. Goldstein observes that because empirical research indicates the link between Heroin and Cocaine as a common indicator in the frequency of compulsive use and criminal activity, their high financial cost render this poly-drug abuse the most relevant form of drug use in connection with the “economic necessity” model propounded as the explanation for the drug crime link (Goldstein 1985).

The “economic necessity” explanation asserts that the pharmacological properties of illegal drugs create an uncontrollable need in users which, in the absence of any significant legitimate outcome, compels users to commit crime to finance their addiction. Furthermore, the causality component of this model is “an essentially mechanical process whereby one set of circumstances inevitably leads to (or causes) another” (Seddon 2000). The strength of empirical support for this model is evidenced by the research of Parker and colleagues (Parker and Newcombe, 1987, Parker et al., Parker and Bottomley 1996), which concentrates on Heroin use and more recently crack-cocaine use.

The research of Parker et al (1987) led to conclusions that there were two different groups of user offenders; namely, those with a prior criminal record whose track record of offending increased after drug use and those without a record prior to drug use whose subsequent addiction led to heightened criminal behaviour, particularly in property crime. However as Hammersely et al. note (1987), it is not entirely conclusive that these two groups discussed by Parker are actually different as the foundation utilised to determine prior criminality is convictions, which only represents a small proportion of actual offences committed (Hammersley et al 1987).

Accordingly, it could alternatively be suggested that the significant majority of user-offenders were in fact involved in property crime before their use of heroin or crack cocaine (and indeed other research e.g. Burr 1987, Edmunds et al 1998 has found this to be the case). As such, the findings that their criminal activity rapidly increased when they became drug dependent can also be attributed to reasons other than the drug-causes-crime theory and ignores wider socio-economic factors.

For example, as other studies have established, the actual levels of drug use are often determined week to week by the perceived “success” in crime (and the resulting money available from the successful execution of the crime) rather than the addiction creating physical need (Parker 1996: Grapendaal, 1992)). As such, this suggests that periods of criminal success are accompanied by “an extravagant lifestyle in which heightened drug consumption is one component and not the determinant causal factor for increase in criminal behaviour” (Grapendaal 1992). This is further supported by Hammersley’s assertions that “day to day, crime was a better explanation of drug use, than drug use was of crime” (1989 p.1040).

The literature review indicates that the implication of the drug causes crime model is that legalisation of drugs or treatment schemes involving the giving of drugs as part of rehabilitation would remove the need to resort to crime to fund drug use. However, it is suggested that this approach ignores the findings in Hammersley’s (1987) study and several other studies which indicate through empirical study that “although prescribing heroin or methadone can reduce criminal activity, it does not stop it altogether (Bennett and Wright 1986, Jarvis and Parker 1990 Parker and Kirby 1996).

Indeed, some studies even suggest that the actual impact of such treatment initiatives on practical reduction of crime is negligible and go as far as suggesting that it has no effect on reduction of crime at all (Burr 1987). For example, Burr (1987) found in study samples that neither methadone maintenance nor abstaining from Heroin (whether temporarily or permanently) actually resulted in people ceasing criminal activity. Additionally, an early study by Weipert (1979) demonstrated that this form of “maintenance” was not conclusive in supporting any real impact on reduction in criminal activity. Indeed, Gossop (1998) observes that the empirical research on treatment or rehabilitation solely demonstrates a reduction in crime (the significance of which is questionable) as opposed to “complete cessation” (Gossop 1998).

However, it has been commented that a major analytical challenge facing the efficacy of such studies of different treatment models is the fact that the research samples often comprise “well motivated people who have reached a stage in their drug using career where they want to “slow-down” (Jarvis and Parker 1990). Accordingly, it is clearly problematic to reliably attribute any resulting crime reduction solely to the treatment initiative in light of the inherent motivation of the sample (Jarvis and Parker 1990).

Furthermore, it has been argued that “offenders may exaggerate drug use in order to escape responsibility for acts and obtain a lighter sentence for mitigating circumstances” (Richard and Senon 1997). Additionally, the literature demonstrates a pattern of drug users often entering treatment at most serious points in their criminal careers (McGlothlin, Anglin et al.1977). As such, offenders and drug users in treatment are likely to be “those who are most heavily involved in drugs and crime” (Seddon 2000). Therefore studies of this group of population “may overestimate the correlation of drug use and crime” (Seddon 2000). Furthermore, other studies demonstrates that crime often begins before drug use, which contradicts the theory that drugs cause crime and demonstrates a reversal of the link between the two.

Notwithstanding this consistent problem of the “motivated sample”, the results of the studies nevertheless point to a trend that the treatment modalities merely reduce the level of crime as opposed to completely ceasing criminal activities, which again undermines the drugs cause crime model. As such, Grapendaal (1995) asserts that this model is “at best only a partial explanation of the relationship” (Grapendaal 1995). For example, Grapendaal’s study on heroin addicts in Amsterdam indicated that methadone prescribing systems formed only one component of the broader context of drug related crime and as such could only ever have a limited effect in reducing criminal activity.

Furthermore, it has been propounded the weakness in this criminological model begs the question as to sources of income and financing of expensive drug habits (Gossop 1998). The body of UK and international literature on income sources for heroin users indicate that they depend on various methods of raising money to fund their habit, of which crime is only a small part (Hammersley 1989, Parker and Bottomley 1996, Bennett 1998, dorn et al 1994). Accordingly, “the drug-causes-crime model is not wholly supported by empirical research” (Seddon 2000). Furthermore, Seddon suggests that in considering this model’s assumptions about causality, “it is possible to understand more clearly why it is flawed at a theoretical level” (Seddon 2000). Seddon further argues that the model is derived from “a static deterministic conception of human action that a particular combination of factors (drug addiction plus low legitimate income) is held to lead inevitably to a certain outcome (acquisitive crime to fund addiction)”. However, as Young points out (1992), this type of causal model fails to address the complexities of how “objective conditions are interpreted through the specific subcultures of groups” (Young 1992 p.34). Accordingly, it is dogmatic and restrictively mechanical, based on a “retreatist" model of drug use, “drawn from the sociology of Merton (1957)” (Young 1992).

Therefore, in the context of the current debate on the correlation between drugs and crime debate, the relevance of this model has been refuted empirically (Seddon 2000). For example, the early work of Preble and Casey (1969) is cited in support of this, where their report highlighted as an example that the lifestyle of the New York street addict, “far from being passive and retreatist, was in fact better described as active and resourceful” (Seddon 2000). Furthermore, subsequent British research elucidating this argument confirmed Preble and Casey’s assertions in the 1980s (Auld et al. 1984).

This can also be seen with regard to use of Heroin which is arguably the most studied drug regarding acquisitive crime (Bean 2004). As such, the British Crime Survey findings in 2005/06 focused on Heroin in its research, hardly comparing other drug use in the UK. The survey findings demonstrated that Heroin and Methadone in 2007 use stood at 0.1% for 16-59 year olds compared with 8.7 per cent for cannabis. Furthermore, the estimates revealed a significant gap between some 2,775,000 Cannabis users, compared to 39,000 Heroin users (Roe & Mann 2006).

Whilst overtly demonstrating a clear correlative link between drug use and levels of crime, the survey arguably ignores a multitude of factors. Firstly, Heroin and Cocaine “incurs the highest financial cost to users, and contains considerable physiological addictive properties, compared with little research to suggest that other illicit substances contain these properties” (Bennett & Holloway 2005). Secondly, research also suggests that these poly drugs are linked more broadly with other complex social problems such as poverty, family breakdown and homelessness (Howard League 2000). As such, it has been suggested that:

“There is no persuasive evidence of any causal linkage between drug use and property crime for the vast majority” (Hough et al 2000). As such the government’s focus on heroin and cocaine is flawed” (Hough et al 2000).

Considered further, Bennett (1998) reported on the NEW ADAM development programme, carried out by Cambridge University (1998) in which 879 arrestees were interviewed and urine tested for illicit drug use. Although not intended to operate as a review of the drug-rime relationship in England and Wales, the study resulted in some insightful observations. The results concluded that almost half of all arrestees reported a link between drug use and their criminal activity (Bennett 1998). Holloway & Bennett (2004) further considered the results of subsequent reproductions of this programme and found that in 2001 for example, percentage supporting the link between drug use and criminal activity had risen from 50% in 1998 to 54% (Holloway & Bennett 2004). Additionally, the 2001 survey results demonstrated that 71% of the interviewees had admitted to using heroin and cocaine in the same period as having committed an acquisitive crime (Holloway & Bennett 2004).

The report also found that clients who had entered treatment for Heroin use, and who had failed to resist use, “were ten times more likely to commit other forms of crime, predominantly of an acquisitive nature” (Holloway & Bennett 2004). It has been argued that these findings support a link between drugs and acquisitive crime particularly in context of heroin and cocaine use. As such, the Home Office response was to assert that:

“The links between drug use and crime are clearly established. In fact, around three-quarters of crack and heroin users claim they commit crime to feed their habit. It is our priority to break this damaging claim.” (Home Office, 2006).

However, this “self survey data” has been criticised on grounds of questionable reliability of offender responses (Gould 1974) linking to the problematic nature of the “motivated interviewee”. For example, Gould comments that offenders often exaggerate the seriousness of their drug dependency, which is motivated by variable factors. Conversely, some samples may downplay their problem whilst undergoing treatment. Accordingly, “the reality of the extent of drug use and the subsequent acquisitive crime cannot be easily identified via self-survey” (Walton 2007). Therefore, it has been propounded that the actual extent of the drug link to crime may be unrealistic (Walton 20070. Moreover, the Home Office’s use of statistical data to justify its policy decisions regarding drug related response arguably supports the economic compulsive theory by implication as the explanation for the correlation between drugs and crime. Fowler comments on the Home Office approach and asserts that “There is now a common assumption that problematic drug misuse is at the root of much crime” (Fowler, 2003: 31).

However, other commentators argue that this “assumption” is inherently flawed, as other empirical research clearly demonstrates that illicit drug use is linked other forms of crime and that as such, the connection between the multifarious factors are complex, which undermines the veracity of Fowler’s statement.

The reverse model is alternatively supported by numerous studies that have found criminality of the samples actually pre-date the subsequent drug addiction (Mott and Taylor 1974, Home Office, 1985; Bean and Wilkinson, 1988; Auld et al 1986, Burr 1987, Parker and Newcombe, 1987 Parker and Bottomley 1996, Matthews and Trickey 1996). This has led some researchers to suggest that it is the actual involvement in crime which leads to drug use, directly contradicting the “drug causes crime” model.

For example, Auld (1986) argued that mass unemployment and low state benefits left a disaffected youth unable to satisfy their basic humanitarian needs, thereby creating an environment ripe for petty crime to secure “necessary funds” (Auld 1986). As such, it was this environment which led to direct contact with the machinations of the drug market.

Burr (1987) argued that in the South London area that was the focus of her study, it was the existing crime culture dominating the local populace which predisposed a vulnerable youth to heroin use in particular to finance their habits. This pre-existence of established networks for “fencing stolen goods” led to increased heroin addiction and as such, “the deviant value system made thieving acceptable behaviour and ….use of heroin was an extension rather than a cause of their delinquent behaviour” (1987 Burr, p.350).

These two differing criminological models provide “corrective viewpoints to conventional view of drug addiction causing crime” (Seddon 2000). Auld et al. focus on the importance of appreciating the socio-economic context whilst Burr focuses on “socio-cultural and sub-cultural” elements (Seddon 2000). Their differing strengths are rooted in adopting a contextual approach which “eschews medical or monocausal explanations” (Seddon 2000). However, it is commented that they are not without their limitations.

Firstly, as discussed above there is evidence that a significant proportion of offenders are not actually involved in crime prior to drug use (Parker and Newcombe 1987, Bean and Wilkinson 1988) which is not accounted for in either Auld or Burr’s assertions. However, this criticism in itself is arguably flawed as the majority of studies rely on conviction records “which only pick up a fraction of actual offences it is difficult to assess the size of this group” (Hammersley 1989 p1032). Secondly, it has been commented that not all individuals living in the socio-economic environment reported by Auld and Burr necessarily become involved in drug abuse and crime and as such, the actual process by which these socio-economic factors explain the drug crime link remains unclear.

Nevertheless, it is impossible to ignore the fact that both models are linked to the “method in which causality is conceptualised” (Seddon 2000). As such, “the mechanical nature of their analyses highlights the need for a better understanding of causality” (Seddon 2000).

The third model propounded is arguably the least developed and has yet to be refined into a coherent framework (Seddon 2000). In essence, this model “rejects deterministic explanations of the drug crime link and instead holds that the two are related either to a single third variable or to a complex set of factors” (Seddon 2000). Edmunds et al 1998) found in its research on arrest referral schemes that 92 per cent of their samples had been first arrested long before their drug addiction became an issue. The research further demonstrated that when the level of drug use increased, the resultant level in criminal activity significantly increased. On this basis, they proposed the following hypothesis regarding the correlation between drugs and crime:

“It makes sense to conceptualise causal links as dynamic or interactive. Criminal and drug using careers often develop in parallel; stated simply, acquisitive crime provides people with enough cash to develop a drug habit, and the drug habit locks them into acquisitive crime” (1998 p.10)

However, despite this attempt to address the ambiguity and inconsistencies created by the other two models, it is argued that there are other hypotheses “which could also explain the empirical findings” (Seddon 2000). For example, the link between increased levels of drug use and crime could be attributed to the fact that “success” in crime execution provides necessary monies to fund the drug use. These parallels between developments of “drug careers” might actually suggest that both are in fact “symptoms of broader delinquent behaviour which is caused by other factors (such as family and employment)” (Seddon 2000). On this premise, Seddon argues that it is necessary to further develop the causal links between drugs and crime to “move beyond generating new but unproven hypotheses” (Seddon 2000).

Another example of the evolving third model is a study by Klee and Morris (1994) which compared the criminal behaviour of heroin and amphetamine injectors. It was found that whilst both had had similar rates of offending, the amphetamine user’s weekly expenditure on drugs was significantly lower suggesting that the motivational factor for criminal activity was actually non-economic. These results led Klee and Morris to speculate that it could be the same thrill associated with the use of stimulants that attracts the users to similar sensations when committing crime. They further argue that the empirical research on the economic model therefore fails to adequately address the effects of different drugs and their associated lifestyles on criminal behaviour (1994).

The work of Hammersley is arguably the most developed version of the third model (Seddon 2000). It doesn’t solely focus on heroin but also looks at users of other drugs including cannabis and alcohol. Moreover, the research rejects “deterministic models and suggests that there is a complex interactive relationship between drug use and crime which is influenced by a range of “psychosocial and cultural mechanisms” (Hammersley 1989 p.1041). This study further argues that it would be more efficient to consider both behavioural patterns as symptoms of delinquency rooted in societal and personal patterns (Hammersley 1989). Furthermore, the multifarious patterns and combinations of polydrug also underlie the relationship between drugs and crime, which links to the findings of the study by Klee and Morris (1994).

Although undeveloped, the third model goes further to develop an explanatory hypothesis which can be reconciled with the available empirical evidence (Seddon 2000). Nevertheless the parameters of its theoretical and conceptual justifications have not been defined and Hammersley et al suggest a potential method for further development of this model (1989). Part of Hammersley’s rationale for the third model is rooted in the premise that drug abuse and criminal activity is viewed as being shaped by the broader socio-economic context of subcultures and lifestyle, which in further influenced by individual specific factors such as drug preference and variance in the physiological impact of the particular drug on an individual’s behaviour. The incorporation of a social scientific approach is utilised as an explanatory tool to implement a cohesive proponent incorporating macro and micro explanations of the drug crime link.


In considering a coherent and measured approach to the subject title which covered a broad range of different sources relating to the topic, it was vital to adopt and implement a structured and multiple stage strategy, which was utilised to produce the information needed and put together in the literature review. This was in turn used as a starting point to formulate and develop an in depth analysis of the complex relationship between drugs and crime.

The first stage was to identify the topic and clarify the parameters of the research question. The topic title requires a consideration of the question whether there is a link between drugs and crime, which covers a broad range of empirical research. Furthermore, the research available clearly points to a link between drugs and crime. Accordingly, the research strategy was rephrased to consider the various models propounded to explain the link between drugs and crime and further consider the DTTO as a practical example of social policy understanding of criminological theorem. The link between these various elements was vital in order to evaluate and formulate ideas going forward within the drug/crime relationship debate.

The second stage was to undertake preliminary background research, utilising the following primary sources:

1) References cited in the Bibliography;

2) Official government studies and policy documents in order to further identify pertinent areas and some key terms, which enabled the broad context of the research as part of the main literature review. In particular, reference was made to the studies and recommendations in the official following reports:

a) Home Office (1997). Drug Treatment and Testing Order: Background and Issues

for Consultation: London: Home Office;

b) Home Office (2005). Drug Strategy London: Home Office;

c) Home Office (2006). Drug Related Crime: London: Home Office; and

d) McSweeney, T., Hough and Turnbull, P. (20020. “Appendix 2: Review of the

research evidence of drug treatment in a criminal justice context”. London:

Criminal Policy Research Unit.

The preliminary research stage also involved undertaking use of spider diagrams to consider the relationship between the three criminological models of the drug crime relationship and mind mapping in order to develop areas of research which may be followed going forward:

This further process led to further mind mapping with regard to the economic concepts underlying the link between drugs and crime. For example, Diagram 2 below demonstrates the interdependency of various economic concepts, which support the assertions in the literature review that the nature of the local drugs market fuels the economic necessity model justifying the drugs/crime link:

The third stage formed the foundation for the literature review, which involved identification of relevant areas of research that had been put into practice such as the Gossop review of the NTORS study (2001) and the Home Office reports into the background to drug strategy and updates on development in drug strategy implementation. This involved the use of library cataloguing in order to identify appropriate books and media. This further included the use of established research methodology tools such as OPAC catalogues where all books and other media, as listed using the Dewey decimal classification system (Bell 2005).

Furthermore where sources were found, I researched the bibliography or the references list to evaluate the literature that had been utilised in the preparation and searched backwards to ascertain more useful and relevant resources. In particular, the use of periodicals, academic abstract services and indexes also assisted in further pinpointing research papers as well as up to date or detailed reports which were not found in academic books on the subject. For example, the Oxford University Abstracts service (www.oxfordabstracts.com) enables cost effective, subject specific abstract and paper management, which is utilised by academic institutions, societies, associations and professional conference organisers worldwide.

As part of the preliminary research phase, the use of Internet data services such as INFOTRAC was particularly useful (for the comparative analysis with US data) as the system includes online catalogues of articles that can be searched by subject or key word.

The research available demonstrated various theories propounded to explain the correlation between drugs and crime. Accordingly, in context of research methodology, the grounded theory model was adopted, which rather “than seeking to prove a hypothesis looks to determine the facts and allow the theory to emerge from the facts” (Bryman 2001).

In this model of data evaluation and research methodology, the approach “dictates that theory should emerge from the data,” (Bryman 2001, Chamberlain 1995). As such, the model implies that the theory propounded must be grounded in the empirical data regarding the drug crime relationship. Furthermore the grounded theory approach is qualitative in utilising a “systematic set of procedures to develop an inductively derived grounded theory about phenomenon” (Strauss and Corbin 1998: 24).

The qualitative approach was fundamental in analysing the data in order to provide an explanation of the variances in theories, trends and further to aid understanding of the contextual relationship of the empirical data and the drug crime correlation (Chamberlain 1995). This was particularly important in supporting the assertion that whilst there is a clearly a link between drugs and crime, the causality of that link needs to be addressed in research.

Firstly, this involved a comparison of the results found in various reports in Europe, USA and Australia studying the link between drug use and the proximity to the commission of the offence in criminal justice populations between 1993 and 2005 prior to the implementation of the DTTO as undertaken by Bennett (2000), Connelly et al. (2000) the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (2002) and Fitzgerald and Chilvers (2002).

This data, which unequivocally confirmed a link between drugs and crime, was then contrasted with the results of studies of use of “hard drugs” and “soft drugs” in the same territory over the same time period, including data in studies of Meijer (2003), Ministero della Giustzia (2001), Koller (1997) and Facy, Chevy et al. (1997) EMCDDA (2002) and Hearnden (2000).

This data was then further compared with studies regarding different types of drug use, utilising the results of Angling and Speckhart; Nurco (1988), Hanlon et al. (1991) Bell, Hall et al.(1992), Brecht, Anglin et al, (1993), Laflamme-Cusson, Guyon et al, (1994) and Bermark (2003).

This data was then compared with post-DTTO research into the link between drugs and crime with particular reference to the findings of the British Crime Survey 2005/06, which again highlighted the variances in crime according to the type of drug use particularly with Heroin use.

The statistical data was then considered in context of reports of interviews with criminal justice populations under the NEW ADAM development programme, which was reported on by Holloway & Bennett (2004) between 1998 and 2004. This scrutiny was further undertaken by considering wider studies of drug behaviour such as Grapendaal (1995) whose study on heroin addicts in Amsterdam indicated that the drug abuse was only one component of a broader context of drug related crime.

As research outside the parameters of the economic model is limited, it was further important to consider Grapendaal’s comments in context of Gould’s reports as early as 1974, which criticised “motivational interviewing” and the efficacy of focused criminal justice studies as being conclusive on the link between drugs and crime. This was further compared with Walton’s report in 2007, which criticised the official Home Office approach for being intrinsically dogmatic in relying on presumptions of the drug crime correlation without further considerations as to causality.

Strauss and Corbin highlighted the main tenets of the grounded theory approach to research (Strauss and Corbin 1998). Firstly, the results discussed should fit the phenomena identified and should be the provision of generality (Strauss 1998), which was demonstrated by reference to the reports of between 1993 and 2005 prior to the implementation of the DTTO as undertaken by Bennett (2000), Connelly et al. (2000) the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (2002) and Fitzgerald and Chilvers (2002) .

This is vital as Strauss points out that assumptions that data obtained is conclusive prevents broader contextual evaluation which was vital in demonstrating the wider socio-economic factors linking drugs and crime (1998) as further highlighted by the observations in Walton’s report (20070. Accordingly, the interpretation of data needs to be “transferable to other scenarios and uses and therefore the theory needs to be abstract as well as extensive” (Strauss 1998), which was evidenced by the studies demonstrating variances in criminal behaviour according to the type of drug use.

Furthermore, the data analysis in context of propounded theory should grant “control”, outlining the parameters of its applicability, recognising its abilities and limitations in terms of other applications (Chamberlain 1995). This can then be utilised as a foundation to either prove or disprove existing theories or alternatively propose new theory (Chamberlain 1995). Indeed the scrutiny of the empirical data in context of reports of Gould (1974), Grapendaal (1995), Holloway & Bennett (2004) and Walton (2007), clearly suggest that the economic model needs to be reconsidered in light of the inherent limitations of motivational interviewing.

Three methods of data analysis took place in relation to data sampling and review (Strauss and Corbin 1998). These methods were open coding, axial coding and selective coding (Strauss and Corbin., 1998). Open coding is the initial stage where there will be categorisation of the data by breaking it down (Strauss and Corbin., 1998). This included the categorisation of the data into the following:

1) data demonstrating a link between drugs and crime;

2) data distinguishing between the types of drug abuse, including “soft” and “hard drugs”; and

3) data relating to other relevant factors towards causality in the drug/crime correlation.

Axial Coding is where there is dissemination into categories that appear to be relevant (Strauss 1998) and Selective coding is where the central theme of category is identified, which ties the other information and categories together (Strauss and Corbin 1998). As Strauss and Corbin assert, this method of collection of data is further guided by “theoretical sampling” which means that sampling should be based upon the most appropriate constructs (1995).

In the latter stages of research, I considered adaptation of the methods by relational and variation sampling, which was used to identify information and data that was useful to validate and enhance existing data. This aided understanding of the relationship between the data in context of the theory and further outlined “any inherent limitations of acceptability for data interpretation” (Chamberlain 1995).

The final stage involved “selected sampling” or purposeful data collection from specific samples of the reports listed above in the initial stages of research and specific documents relating to the DTTO implementation as this was the result of the prior empirical conclusions of the correlation between drugs and crime. This was then utilised as a foundation to collaborate theories and support initial theory formulations within the core category that was identified as well as to add information to the areas where there was little data or further elucidation was required (Strauss 1998).

Within this there were further two important processes, involving formulation and posing questions and comparisons in context of empirical data available. The questions, answers and comparative phase further led to the development of theories or hypothesis as opposed to the traditional hypothesis model, which is in line with Dick’s model of grounded theory:

1) Data Collection;

2) Note taking;

3) Coding

4) Sorting; and

5) Writing.

(Dick 2000)

Furthermore, the comparative studies of data samples in the afore mentioned studies and official Home Office Reports of offenders, ex-offenders and the general population were vital in assessing the drug crime relationship.


The review of literature unequivocally points to a link between drugs and crime however there is clearly a divergence in theories regarding causality leading to a polarised debate of the relationship. Whilst a significant proportion of the literature demonstrates a bias towards the economic necessity model that drugs cause crime, further studies suggest that a fundamental weakness of this empirical research is the “failure to address the issue of causality adequately, relying on unidirectional mechanistic “cause-and-effect” models” (Seddon 2000).

It is further submitted that the complexities of the drug crime link do not conclusively support the economic necessity model and therefore it is vital to consider the drug crime link “in context of inter relation of a range of factors operating at different levels as part of a set of complex processes” (Seddon 2000). Failure to consider the wider causal triggers and machinations of the relationship will inherently limit the efficacy of policy initiatives implemented to reduce crime perceived to be linked to drug abuse. Accordingly, future research should focus on developing a further understanding of causality particularly in relation to poly-drug use and wider socio-economic factors and sub-cultures.

The common justification utilised to undermine the economic necessity model is the results obtained from prison population interviewing. In addition to questions into motivations behind answers given by the relevant samples of these studies, the issue of contention was to whether these crimes would have occurred without an addiction. The statistics appear to suggest that they would not. For example prior to implementation of the DTTO, the Home Office Survey demonstrated that addicts spent an average of £400 a week on drugs with a very small proportion of use funded by legal money (Jones 1998).

Whilst these statistics suggest that the crimes would not have been committed without the prior drug consumption, reliance on this as support for the economic compulsive model again ignores the reality that often the crime is undertaken to finance an addiction. Accordingly, this would suggest that there would be no crime without addiction (Seddon 2000). However, it is the addiction as opposed to the actual effect of drugs on criminal behaviour which motivates the criminal act. Furthermore, the addiction itself is part of a complex process of various socio-economic factors leading to drug use (Burr 1987). For example, in a socio-economic environment predisposing the vulnerable user to a “deviant subculture”, Burr observes that drug dealer exploitation of such a market in offering substances at low economic cost facilitates addiction, leading to vicious cycle (1987).

Furthermore, the economic compulsive model fails to address the socio-economic reasons behind regular use of prescription drugs and anti-depressants outside the realm of stereotypical models of heroin and cocaine use. The use of such prescription drugs are also “indicators of individuals unable to cope with their current circumstances for a variety of reasons” (Seddon 2000) as opposed to any assumption of a prevalent local culture of crime exposing individuals to drug use. For example the studies leading to the implementation of the DTTO found white unemployed single males particularly susceptible to prescription drug addiction (Home Office 1997).

It can be argued that the drugs are intrinsically linked to crime by their very nature of being illegal (Spillane 1997). It can also be argued that the psychopharmacological influence of drug abuse impairs an individual’s rationalisation ability, resulting in abnormal behaviour, which wouldn’t have been undertaken otherwise (Spillane 1997). This would therefore indicate that the link between drugs and crime is the abnormal behaviour created by the properties of drugs as opposed to drugs exploiting or creating any element of criminality in the individual’s mind (Spillane 1997). As such, this again points to the nature of the individual’s addiction and the reasons for the addiction which are inherently complex and impossible to fit to empirical research asserting that drugs cause crime (Seddon 2000)

As such, studies of the causation factor in addiction would appear to support arguments that treatment and rehabilitation of the addiction itself as opposed to imprisonment should be adopted for offenders influenced by drug abuse. Indeed, it has been propounded that failure to do so “begs the question as to whether this is failing the state’s duty to protect the public” (Califano 1997). For example, a study in the UK on treatment of existing drug addicts monitored 1,100 people (heroin addicts) on a drug treatment programme monitoring progress for three months. Two years later, there was an improvement in drug use and criminal activity had reduced by more than 50%, however it did not lead to complete cessation (Holloway & Bennett 2005).

Therefore it is further submitted that whilst the drugs may lead to the crime in the short term, the causality of the correlation between drugs and crime is often rooted in the social and economic problems leading to drug addiction, which must be developed in criminological research in this area prior to any further policy initiatives. This assertion ultimately propounds that it is the nature of the addiction and the resulting behaviour that leads to crime and not the drugs themselves and “If society continues to only treat the symptoms and not the root cause the problems will continue” (Brochu and Brunelle., 1997).

Brochu and Brunelle attempt to integrate and develop several of these arguments regarding the nature of addiction by evaluating drug use and crime in the context of an individual’s life course (not just at one moment), which is vital “in context of meanings that each person attaches to their own actions in circumstances they face” (Seddon 2000) and arguably goes further towards a meaningful understanding of socio-economic triggers and eschews flawed assumptions regarding social background and environment without credible empirical support (Brochu and Brunelle 1997). A different approach is propounded by Deitch and his colleagues, who refer to addiction and crime as “a co-occurring disorder” (Deitch, Koutsenok et al. 2000) suggesting that psychiatry and not sociology will lead to an explanation, however this model of explaining the drug crime relationship remains to be developed.

Whilst welcome in moving away from the inherent restrictions of the economic compulsive model, these alternatives still ignore the reality that different types of crimes may have different explanations for different individuals (Shaffer, Nurco et al. 1984, Germain and Le Blanc 1996). Furthermore, different types of crimes will be influenced by different types of drugs, which are not accounted for by current empirical research due to its focus on poly-drug abuse. As such, it is certain that “there will never be one accepted theory of the drugs/crime link” (Lurigio and Schwartz). Indeed, the literature review clearly supports Lurigio and Schwartz’s assertions that “little support can be found for a single specific and direct causal connection” (1999).

Nevertheless, in evaluating the literature review, it is evident that there is a proven correlation between drugs and crime (Brochu 2001), however it seems that the addiction occurs first and as such, the inherent problem lies in the fact that the “majority of the control remains with the dealers” (Holland). As such, “they will always have an unhealthy bias in wishing to keep the addicts well and truly addicted, regardless of the cost to society” (Holland).


The analysis demonstrates that there is no argument regarding the fact that there is a link between drugs and crime. However, most interestingly, the analysis clearly points to the inconsistency of current research which is suggested to be inefficient due to the direct failure “to properly address the issue of causality between drugs and crime” (Seddon 2000). Nevertheless, it is submitted that it is vital to develop research into evaluating precisely the definition of causality between drugs and crime and how it can be demonstrated through “effective” empirical research. It is arguable that the recent attempts of Brochu and Brunelle are evidence of movements in the right direction in considering the socio-economic context and acknowledging that the nature of addiction is fundamental to the understanding of the relationship. However, a consistent approach is needed in order for weight to be attached to the credibility of this new body of empirical research

From a theoretical perspective, it is re-iterated that the review demonstrates a “deterministic unidirectional cause-effect model that is conceptually inadequate for examining the drug-crime relationship” (Seddon 2000). By contrast, the third

criminological model which asserts that the link between drug and crime is part of a “complex process in which a large number of factors operating at different levels are implicated” (Seddon 2000) clearly has far more credibility (Seddon 2000). The proliferation of research into causality demonstrates that a multitude of trigger factors may be involved in the process of drug use and addiction, including the type of drug used, individual psychological make up of the sample studied, local economies, local cultures and subcultures and the broader socio-economic context (Burr 1987).

As to how these factors are linked, the literature suggests that firstly, the interrelation is interactive with the relationships between factors “better described in terms of tendencies or probabilities rather than as determined or inevitable” (Seddon 2000).

This “conceptualisation” of causality can draw parallels with “realist” or “scientific realist” approaches to social science theorem (Sayer 1992; Pawson and Tilley 1997). For example, Sayer describes causation by utilising concepts of causal powers and liabilities, necessity and contingency (Sayer 1992), which can clearly be reconciled with the third model regarding the interrelation of complex processes, multiple causal factors and context considerations. Similarly, Pawson and Tilley (1997) highlight the necessity in appreciating complex causal mechanisms and their methods of operation in various contextual situations. It is submitted that a focused and closer study by researchers in this area through the “realist” lens would provide appropriate theoretical justifications for explaining the drug crime link (Pawson and Tilley 1997).

This concept of causality has also influenced consideration of mainstream sociology (Weber 1997). For example, Weber refers to the multi-causal facets of sociological phenomena (Weber 1997) but also develops his own concept of “adequate causality”, which states that social science should focus on the probabilistic relationship between drugs and crime instead of “automatic determinative ones” (Weber 1997). Similarly, it has been argued that Marx’s dialectical research methodology format demonstrates that the social context of the criminological link needs to be considered in terms of “complex interactive relationships rather than with the unidirectional cause-effect models” (Seddon 2000). Thus, in this sense, it can be argued that future research into causality requires a sociological approach (Seddon 2000).

This notion of causality proposed is rooted in the implied notion of the individual as a “subject” which lies somewhere between the classical concept of “the free willed individual and the determinism of positivist criminology” (Seddon 2000). This is further referred to as “self-determinism”, which asserts that an individual has free will regarding behaviour, which is inherently restricted by particular social, economic and cultural circumstances (Weber 1997).

With regard to the methodological dimension of developing the causality argument in future research, several considerations are applicable. In general terms, “qualitative research methods provide the best tools” for evaluating the complex machinations of the drug crime relationship discussed above (Sayer 1992). Although quantitative research is useful in identifying links and determining probabilities, it is limited by inability to give answers of how and why in the drug/crime link debate (Sayer 1992).

Accordingly, it is submitted that in order to identify and explain specific elements of the third model going forward “ethnographies of drug-crime association is required”. An example of this would be adopting the methodological approach of Brochu and Brunelle in considering a comparative analysis of drug using offenders and non-drug users in similar socio-demographic characteristics over a period of time in order to highlight the methods by which individuals become involved in different patterns of addiction and criminal activity and by which some remain non-offenders. Furthermore, in developing the use of “self-determinism” it is submitted that these studies need to consider the processes identified within wider concepts of culture, ethnicity, gender and variances in drugs used.

The literature review clearly has policy implications and Bennett argues that the notion of drug treatment or prescribing as a significant means of crime reduction is inherently flawed by the belief that drug addiction causes crime, which is not conclusively supported by the empirical data available (2005). Further as suggested by Parker and Kirby (1996), the increasing growth of poly-drug use “may pose demanding new challenges on current treatment responses, particularly those based on use of opiate substitutes such as methadone. Accordingly, drug treatment as a panacea for property crime is a strategy unlikely to succeed” (1996).

If we consider this in context of the implementation of the DTTO, which was introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act (1998), it has been reported that there were severe problems associated with the DTTO in practice; namely the low retention rates and high reconviction rates (Finch & Ashton 2005). Consequently many offenders sentenced to the DTTO failed to benefit from the treatment objective and studies into reductions in drug related crime did not reveal significant results (Finch & Ashton 2005). As a result, the recent report undertaken on behalf of the UK Drug policy Commission (UKDPC) suggested that “benefits of drugs treatment programmes were limited because some users relapsed and many went untreated” (BBC NEWS 2007).

Fundamentally, retention rates were found to be crucial to the success of the treatment order and it was suggested by Finch et al that a less stringent approach to breaches of the order would facilitate its success in treatment. This in itself highlights the complexities of the drug crime relationship and it is suggested “that greater attention to the enhancement of motivation and understanding the complexities of both the drug crime relationship and addiction needs to be focused upon in future treatment initiatives” in order to improve retention rates (Walton 2007).

It is submitted that the DTTO fails to fully implement practices which deal with causes of the drug/crime connection and as such, should incorporate a variety of interventions (Bennett et al 2005). Furthermore, a heightened understanding of motivational theories is vital to the success of treatment (Walton 2007).

The DTTO targets offenders deemed “highly problematic, committing high amounts of drug use and related crime” (Walton 2007), which supports the method of longitudinal research provided by the National Treatment Outcome Research Study (NTORS), which demonstrated that of the participants samples studied, 10% of problematic drug users were committing 75% of drug related crime for this group (Gossop et al 2001). As such, the DTTO aimed to reduce the drug crime link via targeting the most prolific offenders (Walton 2007). These factors meant that the DTTO essentially became “the government’s flagship to deal with the problem of drug abuse and crime” (Bean 2004: 132).

The standalone DTTO has been gradually phased out in favour of the Drug Rehabilitation Requirement due to the Community Sentencing provisions introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The DRR establishes a framework aimed to treat via a variety of intensity levels. However, there is a lack of documentation regarding how effective it is in responding to the problems posed by South (2001).

Furthermore, the debates into the DTTO demonstrate that the qualitative data research was often not prioritised due to the drive for statistics and data to justify politically motivated legislative initiatives. As such, the qualitative data available is inherently limited in value to the short term. As such, there is a need for:

“longitudinal studies upon the nature of the drug-crime relationship which incorporates understanding beyond explanations of economic compulsive crime and ……… to delve into the roots of addiction to understand cognitive, physiological and behavioural aspects of the relationship between problematic drug use and acquisitive crime and offender responses” (Walton 2007).

Moreover the effectiveness of this method needs to be evaluated by a “prolonged understanding of offender experiences” (Walton 2007), which essentially means a partial withdrawal from quantitative research. This may prove costly, however it is argued that the schemes could implemented for regular supervised studies and testing of regular samples over a specified and prolonged period of time.

Clearly, more is needed to understand and implement interventions which deal with addiction and motivational issues within drug treatment requirements within the criminal justice system and “Motivational Interviewing” is not sufficient per se to achieve “lasting change” (West 2006:190). Therefore the criminal justice system needs to understand and tackle the complexities surrounding motivation to a greater degree.

One method would be to expand the approach to treatment of offenders. Preble and Casey (1969) suggest that “adopted lifestyles are crucial factors in the existence of the relationship between drugs and crime” and Gifford and Humphreys (2007) further support the importance of socio-environmental factors treating addiction. Accordingly, increasing research into positive socio-economic factors in an offenders’ life is vital as a comparative with negative factors.

Overall, the criminal justice system needs to “acknowledge that the nature of addiction is complex which manifests in a “relapse” culture as part of the process of change” (Seddon 2000). Furthermore, the suggestion that the government is failing to understand and incorporate theories of addiction and motivation are still valid today. How the DTTO implementation highlights the flaws in the drug research regarding the understanding of drug crime relationship. As such the understanding of the drug crime relationship must continue to fully evaluate how to adequately respond.

The literature indicates that the drug crime association is best viewed “as simply one particular pattern of delinquency” (Walton 2007). In other words, “drug related crime is more label descriptive of a set of certain behaviour which has little independent heuristic value” (Walton 2007). As such, the literature review suggests that a more effective drugs policy should deal with broader concepts of delinquency of which “drug related crime” is just one part (Seddon 2000). In doing so, the categories of delinquency should be considered within “wider social processes, which are currently ignored” (Seddon 2000).

It is submitted that future research should evaluate through a “contextualised ethnographic” method, which develops notions of causality with large scale reassessment through quantitative survey data in order to develop the third model explaining the link between drugs and crime (Walton 2007). These two areas neglected by researchers and should be priorities for studies going forward in order to elucidate the causality behind the established link between drugs and crime (Seddon 2000).


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Spillane, J., (1998). The Making of an Underground Market: Drug Selling in Chicago, 1900-1940. The Journal of Social History.

Stevens, A., Berlo, D., Kerschi V., Oeuvray K., Ooyen, M., Steffan M., Heckman W., & Uchtenhagen, A (2003). Summary Literature Review: The International Literature on Drugs, Crime and Treatment. QCT Europe Project: European Institute of Social Services.

Strauss and Corbin (1998). Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. New York Sage Publications.

Stuntz, S.J. (1998). Race, class and drugs. Columbia Law Review. Volume 98: pp.1795-1842.

Turnbull, P., (1999) Drug Treatment and Testing Orders-Interim Evaluation: Research Findings 106. London: Home Office.

Walton, K., (2007). The DTTO: Concerns for the Future. Sage London.

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Welte, J.W., Zhang, L.N. and Wieczorek, W.F. (2001). The effects of substance use on specific types of criminal offending in young men”. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. Volume 39: pp.416-438.

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*      “Other drugs” include other illegal substances such as PCP, LSD and Ecstasy as well as controlled substances such as barbiturates and anabolic steroids.

Source:     R. Logan, “Crime Statistics in Canada, 2000,” Juristat, Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 85-002-xie, Vol. 21, No. 8, 2001, p. 11.

            Although the figures confirm the existence of crime directly and indirectly related to the use of illegal drugs (possession versus trafficking, importing and production), there are nevertheless certain significant limits as a result of which the number of offences associated with illegal drug use is underestimated.

            For example, in Canada, the number of incidents determined through the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey reflects only the most serious offence committed at the time of a criminal incident.  Consequently, if a criminal incident involves a robbery and a drug possession offence, only the robbery will be entered in the database.([11])

                Research has also clearly shown that a large percentage of crime is never reported to or investigated by police.  This is all the more likely to occur with crimes related to illegal drug use.  Individuals involved in these types of activities are usually consenting; as a result, they are generally not inclined to report the incidents to police.  Moreover, police do not necessarily investigate incidents reported to them.  It is not enough for police authorities to be aware of the incident; officers on duty must establish that the situation in question is a criminal justice matter.  Briefly put, the police can choose various interpretations and actions; these can include:  deciding to do nothing because they believe the situation does not require legal intervention; forwarding the case to a social assistance agency; arresting the individual involved; etc.([12])

Although statistical fluctuations may in some instances indicate changes in the number of crimes committed, the research shows that police resources and strategies adopted in the fight against drugs very much influence official crime statistics.  For example, there is every reason to believe that the sharp decline in the number of drug-related offences observed in Canada between 1981 and 1983 may be explained in part by the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.  By restricting police search and seizure powers, the Charter appreciably reduced the number of police actions related to drug possession.  Similarly, the introduction of alternative measures in 1997 that police officers could use when dealing with adult offenders instead of laying formal charges appears to have had a downward effect on the number of charges laid by police.([13])

            Many studies which compare data obtained through self-revealed crime surveys([14]) and arrest statistics as well as drug testing programs and surveys of arrestees have shown that only a small percentage of all offences reported by drug users have resulted in arrests.([15])   In a Canadian study conducted in Toronto in 1994, only 5% of cocaine addicts interviewed said they had been arrested for cocaine possession.([16])  That percentage is very similar to the percentage recorded in Canada’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Survey 1994, in which only 7.7% of respondents who reported that they had previously used illegal drugs indicated that they had been in trouble with the law.([17])

            Finally, the figures in Table 1 pertain solely to offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act; they do not include other types of crime also associated with illegal drug use, such as violent crimes resulting from disputes between dealers and drug buyers, wars waged among criminal organizations over control of the drug trade, and acquisitive crimes committed primarily by hard drug addicts to pay for illegal drugs and maintain their lifestyle.

            Statistics similar to those gathered in Canada on crime related to drug use, trafficking and the production of illegal drugs are published the world over.  In 1998, marijuana was the substance most commonly cited in drug-related arrests in member states of the European Union.([18])  That year in France, 85% of drug arrests involved marijuana.([19])  It should be noted, however, that in 1997, a little less than one-half of those arrested for drug use in France were retained for questioning, and the vast majority of users were released.([20])

                        In Australia, 80% of drug arrests between 1993 and 1996-1997 were for marijuana offences.  The vast majority of cases involved possession of illegal drugs rather than trafficking (71% in 1996-1997).([21])  It should also be noted that the majority (78%) of people imprisoned for a drug offence in 1996 were convicted of trafficking, not possession or use.([22])

                        According to 1998 British statistics on drug-related offences, 76.1% of those convicted, released on bond, fined or charged with multiple drug offences were involved with marijuana; most were arrested for possession.([23])

                        In the United States, although 80.5% of all drug arrests were for possession,([24]) 40.5% were related to marijuana.([25])

                        Finally, in the Netherlands, 81% of all arrests for drug offences in 1996 were related to hard drugs (any drug other than hashish and marijuana), and in 1998, all offences were related to trafficking, because the Netherlands does not normally prosecute people for using drugs.([26])  These data show that, with the exception of users in the Netherlands, many drug users have come in contact with the justice system without necessarily committing an offence other than an offence directly related to their drug use (i.e., possession or use of narcotics).

                        The caution regarding the reliability of the Canadian statistics stated above also applies to foreign data.  According to some studies in France, statistics on arrests of drug users must be used with caution, as it is difficult to determine with any certainty the extent to which observed changes reflect changes in the drug user population and whether the changes are in fact linked to changes in police and gendarmerie activities.  For example, the data on arrests for drug use between 1993 and 1998 show significant increases of 30% in 1997 and 9% in 1998.([27])  Many factors may explain that increase, among them changes in the approaches used by police and gendarmerie, reorganization of police departments, and normalization of marijuana use.  One possible explanation is that a 1995 circular on court-ordered treatment issued by the Ministry of Justice led public prosecutors to instruct the police to “systematically report users.”([28])  Perhaps those instructions led to the sharp increase in the number of drug-use arrests recorded in 1997.

            The link between drugs and crime highlighted in this section pertains directly to drug use and drug possession.  Trafficking in, importing and producing illegal drugs are forms of crime driven by different motives, such as the need to get money to buy drugs to satisfy a drug addiction.  This point is discussed in greater detail in section C.

            Many people associate drug intoxication with crime, sometimes even violent crime.  This so-called psychopharmacological link implies that people may commit crimes or sometimes violent crimes after using certain substances recognized as undermining judgment and self-control, generating paranoid ideas and/or distorting inhibitions and perceptions.([29])

            Although all drugs that have an impact on the nervous system may cause these kinds of reactions, the scientific literature suggests that some drugs are more strongly associated than others with violence of this type.  Those drugs include alcohol,([30]) PCP (phencyclidine), cocaine, amphetamines([31]) and barbiturates.  Inversely, heroin and cannabis are generally associated with a weaker desire to use violence to resolve disputes.([32])

            The following table is a summary of the main properties of illegal drugs that have been analyzed in relation to violence.


Marijuana is generally associated with a reduced desire to use violence.



Like marijuana, heroin generally has the effect of lowering the desire to use violence.  In some cases, however, it appears that disturbed or impulsive behaviours may occur during a period of withdrawal.


Cocaine’s main property is that it stimulates the central nervous system.  Cocaine abuse can cause paranoia, although that reaction appears to be infrequent among cocaine users as a whole.  Some report that cocaine use can also cause irritability and anxiety in users, especially at the end of a period of intoxication.



PCP is recognized for its many properties (hallucinogenic, analgesic and anesthetic).  Like cocaine, it stimulates the central nervous system.  Empirical studies are particularly incomplete for this drug; however, PCP is second to alcohol as the drug most often associated with violence.


Like PCP, LSD is known for its hallucinogenic properties.  It can therefore cause strange and violent behaviour.


The main property of amphetamines is that, like cocaine, they stimulate the central nervous system.  Amphetamine abuse can thus cause paranoia, irritability, anxiety and even toxic psychosis.

Sources:    S. Brochu, “La violence et la drogue,” L’intervenant, Vol. 16, No. 3, April 2000; D.C. McBride, “Drugs and Violence,” in J. Inciardi, ed., The Drugs-Crime Connection, Sage Publications, 1981; N. Boyd, High Society.  Legal and Illegal Drugs in Canada, Toronto:  Key Porter Books, 1991.


However, evidence supporting this model is limited.  The few empirical elements are drawn from research which presents numerous methodological problems and does not really help to understand the specific effects of certain drugs.([33])  Indeed, many recent studies have challenged the notion that psychoactive drugs stimulate violent behaviour in any systematic manner.([34])

This psychopharmacological model of the link between drug use and crime is based in particular on research data showing that a large number of arrestees and inmates had used drugs on the day they committed the crimes for which they were incarcerated.  The following paragraphs present research findings which show that many criminal acts, some of them violent, are committed in Canada each year under the influence of a drug.

            According to data from Statistics Canada’s 1997 survey Homicide in Canada, 50% of accused persons had used alcohol or illegal drugs before committing their crimes.([35])  Another Canadian study conducted in 1999 – based on a questionnaire distributed to all new inmates incarcerated in federal penitentiaries([36]) – showed: 


·        slightly more than half (50.6%) of the inmates had used drugs and/or alcohol on the day they committed the offence for which they were incarcerated;

·        among this group, approximately 16% had used illegal drugs only and 13% had used a combination of the two([37]); and

·        significant differences in the types of crimes committed by type of drug used (i.e., alcohol and illegal drugs).


There was a rather clear distinction between acquisitory crimes and violent crimes in the prevalence of use of drugs and alcohol.  While homicides and, more pronouncedly, assaults and wounding were predominantly alcohol-related, crimes such as thefts and break and enter showed a higher prevalence of drug use on the day of the crime.([38])


Similarly, self-report surveys in the United States have also indicated a link between criminal activity and the use of alcohol and illicit drugs.


According to self-reports from a 1991 survey with a sample of 14,000 State and 6,600 Federal prison inmates, 24% of Federal inmates and 49% of State inmates reported that they were under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs at the time of their current offence.  In State prisons, 32% of inmates reported they were under the influence of alcohol, and 31% reported they were under the influence of drugs (including 14% who were under the influence of both) when they committed their current offence.([39])


                        This closer link between alcohol use and violent crime has been demonstrated in a number of studies.([40])  In 1991, the Research and Statistics Branch of Correctional Service Canada pointed out that “violent offences were more often committed under the influence of alcohol or both alcohol and drugs, rather than under the influence of drugs alone.”([41])  In one of the analyses on drug-related homicides in New York, Goldstein contended that very few murder victims are killed by people driven mad by illegal drugs and that homicide related to psychopharmacological factors is generally committed by people under the influence of alcohol.([42])  An analysis of 218 homicides in New York, committed in 1998 and presumed to be related to drugs, showed that only 14% involved the psychopharmacological factor and that 74% were related to systemic violence resulting from the illegal drug market and related drug trafficking.([43])

            The 1999 study by Brochu et al. also gathered useful information for analyzing the link between the psychopharmacological effects of certain drugs and criminal behaviour.  The study, which dealt specifically with illegal drug use and crime, produced the following main findings:


·        28% of the inmates questioned said they had committed all or at least most of their crimes under the influence of an illegal drug;([44])

·        nearly 44% of inmates who reported that they had previously used illegal drugs believed that their drug use had increased their criminal activity, whereas 51% thought their drug use had had no effect on their criminal activity and nearly 5% contended that it had contributed to a decline in their criminal activity;([45]) and

·        nearly 80% of inmates who used illegal drugs on the day they committed the crime for which they were incarcerated (16% of inmates in the study) stated that their drug use had facilitated their acting out.  Of those, 83.1% reported that their drug use had altered their judgment, 33.6% that it had made them more inclined to fight, and 37% that it had made them more aggressive and violent.([46])


            Although some of these findings offer invaluable information for understanding the meaning that inmates attach to their drug use and crimes, such as the data on drug use on the day of the crime, they are insufficient to show a causal relationship between drug use and criminal activity.  In other words, nothing in these findings clearly demonstrates that the criminal act would not have been committed if the individual had not been under the influence of drugs.  Moreover, the findings based on the link that the offender sees between his or her drug use and his or her crimes should be significantly clarified.  In the view of various researchers,([47]) some inmates prefer to associate their criminal behaviour with their drug use.  This enables them to attribute responsibility for their actions to an outside cause, i.e., drugs.  Although for many inmates this association is indisputable, research has shown that some individuals use it as an excuse for their behaviour and to unburden themselves of part of the weight of the offence.([48])  A 1998 study of the entire Canadian population also tends to show that this view of the matter is widespread.  According to the survey results, three-quarters of respondents admitted that drinking could serve as a pretext for using violence.([49])

            According to Brochu, “while the general pharmacological characteristics of the most common [drugs] are quite well known, understanding of the specific mechanisms promoting violent behaviour appears extremely deficient.”([50])  This may be explained by the complex nature of the variables involved, which include:


·        type of drug used (simultaneous use of more than one drug must also be considered);

·        method of use;

·        dosage (drugs are recognized as having variable effects depending on the user’s weight, height, sex and other characteristics);([51])

·        the user’s predisposition (moods, expectations of drug use, general health, etc.)([52]); and

·        social environment (local atmosphere, companions, etc.).([53])


            The psychopharmacological model is powerless to explain why most drug users do not commit crimes of violent offences.  This deficiency forces a recognition of the fact that the reasons for violence and criminal activity go beyond the properties of the drugs themselves.

            Although many studies indicate that some people used illegal drugs the day they committed their crime, there is little empirical evidence in the scientific literature to establish a direct link between crime, violence and the psychopharmacological effects of drugs.([54])


   2.  Economic-compulsive link

          a.  Substance abuse and criminal activity 

            Before moving on to crime and violence caused by the illegal drug market, this section examines another aspect that may explain the link between drug use and crime, i.e., the economic‑compulsive link, which assumes that drug users commit crimes to finance their drug use.  More specifically, according to this explanatory model of the drug-crime relationship, the compelling and recurrent need for drugs and their high price lead some users to commit crimes to obtain the money they need to buy drugs.  This model focuses on individuals who have developed a dependence on expensive drugs and assumes that the large amounts of money associated with frequent use of certain illegal drugs constitute an incentive for criminal action.

            This explanation of the relationship between drugs and crime is well supported in the literature and the media.  Many people attribute a great percentage of crime to this economic-compulsive link.  According to Brochu:


[Translation] This belief, deeply rooted in people’s minds, is fostered by the police and the media, which seize every opportunity to dig up the drug-using past of persons arrested for theft.  The offenders themselves promote this association by swearing to anyone who will listen that the single cause of their involvement in crime is their heavy [drug] use.  For many, this statement is indisputable.  For others, some doubt persists because, in some instances, there is a clear benefit to be gained in accepting the label of addict:  referral to a treatment centre instead of incarceration.([55])


            Many statistical studies support the theory of a link between addiction to illegal drugs and criminal activity.  Some Canadian and foreign studies have shown that the rate of use of illegal drugs is much higher among people who have been in contact with the criminal justice system than among the general population.([56])

            In his 1994 report, the Chief Coroner of British Columbia stated that law enforcement agencies generally admit that many chronic drug users commit crimes to support their dependence.  At the time, police officers in British Columbia estimated that 60% of crimes committed in the province were motivated by, although not directly linked to, drugs.([57])  Furthermore, a report published in 1995 by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police stated that most crimes against property (such as theft, break and enter, and fraud), as well as prostitution, are committed by drug users in order to feed their habit.([58])

            Some Canadian research conducted among inmates also provides empirical evidence supporting the economic-compulsive model.  According to one study conducted by Forget in 1990,([59]) more than one-third of the individuals interviewed at the Montreal Detention Centre said that they had committed their crimes for the purpose of buying drugs.  Similarly, the 1999 study by Brochu et al.([60]) showed that nearly two-thirds of federal inmates who had used drugs on the day of the crime for which they were incarcerated reported having committed their crime in order to get money to buy drugs.  That was the case for inmates who had committed the following crimes:  theft (more than 83%); robbery (78%); fraud (70%); and break and enter (68%).  The study also appears to confirm a strong link between the use of expensive drugs and the commission of criminal acts.  Approximately 68% of cocaine users who answered the questionnaire reported that they had committed their crimes in order to get the money they needed to buy drugs.([61])  Once again, it is important to interpret this information carefully.  As discussed above, some offenders (consciously or not) use this strategy to justify their behaviour and reject responsibility for their actions.

            Regular use of illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine is expensive.  The amount spent by addicts on drugs varies from report to report.  However, researchers agree that drug addicts have three main sources of income:  social assistance, acquisitive crime, and the illegal drug market.([62])  A study conducted in Quebec in the 1990s found that expenses related to daily cocaine use could amount to $43,000 a year.([63])  In a more recent study of opiate users in Toronto, a sample of heroin users reported spending an average of $3,133 on heroin in the 30 days preceding the study.([64])  Most respondents (89.7%) in the sample who had already been arrested said that they were arrested primarily for illegal activities either related to their drug use or activities in which they were trying to get drugs or get money to buy drugs.([65])

In a British study based on four regions of the United Kingdom, the majority of arrestees who said that they thought that their drug use and crime were connected also said that the two were connected because they needed money to buy drugs (70%).([66])   Another study of heroin addicts in Amsterdam found that some heroin users do commit crimes in order to buy drugs but that acquisitive crime accounts for only about one-quarter of their total income.  Heroin addicts in Amsterdam derive most of their income from social security.([67])  Social assistance is also the main source of income, apart from illegal activities, for opiate users in Toronto.([68])

            Research has also shown that drug users’ criminal activity varies greatly with the relationship they have with drugs.([69])  The periods when users are dependent on a drug are often accompanied by increased criminal activity, whereas periods when they have no such dependency see an appreciable decline in such activity.([70])  Studies of arrestees in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have shown a strong relationship between illegal drug use and illegal income.  For example, the findings of the NEW-ADAM (New English and Welsh Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring) study group showed that:


Arrestees who reported spending £100 or more on drugs reported ten times the number of offences as those who reported no expenditure on drugs.  They also reported four times the mean number of offence types committed in the last 12 months, eight times more than the mean illegal income, and almost twice as many arrests.([71])

            The relationship that users are likely to have with drugs and crime is thus influenced to a large degree by their drug use profile.  To afford a better grasp of these subtle points, researchers have proposed a typology consisting of three categories of users:  experimenters or occasional users; regular users; and dependent users.

            With regard to occasional users, the research tends to show that most will never use illegal drugs regularly.  In the vast majority of cases, moreover, they will never adopt a deviant lifestyle and will generally choose legal ways of financing their illegal drug use.  In most cases, crime will be a means of last resort.([72])  Instead, it is the amount of available money that will dictate the purchase and use of drugs by these individuals.([73])  Many studies suggest that only occasional users who have already adopted a deviant lifestyle prior to using drugs will likely commit offences to meet their needs.([74])  These offences may help finance their drug use, but most will do it for the adrenaline rush and because they want a taste of life on the edge.  This explanation of the relationship between drugs and crime seems particularly appropriate for young people.

            For dependent users, dependency will very often have the effect of increasing their involvement in crime.  However, it must be understood that this involvement will to a large extent be determined by their circumstances, the drug they use, their lifestyle, their attraction to certain types of activities, and their economic and social resources.([75])  Research on the lifestyle and economic behaviour of heroin addicts in Amsterdam has indeed shown that 21% of the study sample reported not committing any crime prior to or during the research.([76])  Furthermore, among the group of drug users who said they were involved in criminal activities, it was found that “[i]n total, acquisitive crime accounts for 24% of the total income.  The most important source of income is social security.”([77])  Although few studies have focused on the criminal involvement of more affluent addicts, research has nevertheless shown that users who were not involved in any form of crime at the time they became dependent and who have enough money to pay for their drug habits generally do not resort to criminal activities.([78])  Criminal activity is thus not an inevitable outcome of drug use, even for individuals who have developed a dependency on a high-cost drug.

                        Furthermore, crime is not the only means by which dependent users pay for drugs.([79])  Users may increase their usual money-earning activities while reducing their overall spending.  Some occasional users will work overtime to make up the shortfall, while others will moonlight.  They may also borrow money from friends or family members and even use resources intended for people in need (e.g., soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless) in order to reduce the amount they spend on their own meals and accommodation and thus free up money for drugs.([80])  According to Brochu, many users prefer to stop using drugs rather than get involved in crime, and few fall into a form of crime that conflicts with their basic moral values([81]) (e.g., prostitution or selling drugs to minors).


         b.  Types of crime committed by drug users 

            A number of studies have shown that the type of crime which stems from the need for money created by dependence on certain drugs is generally acquisitive and non-violent.([82])  Although addicts who need money may at times engage in violent crime, the research tends to show that this type of crime is quite rare and that when it does occur, it very often springs from the context in which the crime is committed. 

While some of these acts may be intrinsically violent, e.g. muggings or armed robbery, the violence may often result as the by-product of other factors in the social context in which the crime is perpetrated, e.g. when a victim returns home or wakes up during a break and enter, the resistance of the intended victim, the intercession of bystanders; such unanticipated occurrences may lead to an escalation in what could have been completed as a non-violent crime.([83])  

                        The crimes most often committed by individuals who have developed an intense dependency on a drug and who do not have the financial and social means to obtain it are drug trafficking, prostitution, theft of property, break and enter, and fraud.([84])  In general, the crimes favoured by users are those not requiring any particular expertise and for which there is a minor risk of prosecution.  It should therefore not be surprising that the crimes they most often commit are theft within the family or in the workplace, shoplifting, and the theft of small items (e.g., bicycles and contents of automobiles).([85])  Nor will it be surprising that most major drug users get involved in reselling illegal drugs in exchange for either money or drugs.([86])  Women tend to engage in prostitution to a greater degree than do men.  The difference may be attributable in particular to “the fact that it is difficult for women to gain access to other types of crime (e.g., trafficking) and the fact that they are economically dependent” as well as by the “traditional role of women as perceived by men.”([87])

                                That being said, beyond these figures and the impressions conveyed by the police and others, there is no existing empirical data that researchers can use to determine the percentage of crimes committed out of a need for money caused by drug dependence.  Furthermore, the economic-compulsive model largely disregards some research findings, including the fact that:  a number of drug users, even those who are dependent users, do not commit crimes other than those directly related to their drug use; and many drug users got involved in crime before they used drugs.


      3.  Systemic link 

                        Violence is an integral part of the illegal drug distribution market.([88])  It exists mainly because the drug market affords no legal way of obtaining justice when rules are violated.  According to this explanatory model of the relationship between drugs and crime, the profit opportunities perceived by the various players in the market and the fierce competition in this illegal environment encourage involvement in crime, such as:  disputes between dealers, problems involved in recovering debts, protection rackets, etc.  On this point, Erickson contends that: 

While legally regulated markets, such as those in alcohol or pharmaceuticals, have recourse to legitimate authority to resolve disputes and set standards for fair competition, those involved in an illegal, high profit market resort mainly to force.([89]) 

            Crime in the drug world is often caused by rivalries among individuals attempting to corner the market.  This violence may involve various players – including traffickers, importers, merchants or dealers – and may be intended to control various territories, such as a neighbourhood, street or school.  Violence is then used as an organizational management strategy.([90])  Its use is easily understood when one thinks of the high economic stakes involved in the illegal drug market.([91])

            A Canadian study of drug dealers on probation provided an updated view of the frequent use of violence in the context of the drug trade.  According to the study’s findings, slightly more than half of the drug dealers interviewed (56%) admitted they had used violence in their activities.([92])  These figures are not surprising in view of the context in which the dealings take place because: 

Buying and selling drugs requires a face-to-face interaction in which the dealer is trying to sell the lowest quality at the highest price, while presenting the drug as the highest quality at the lowest price.([93])


            Some Canadian statistics provide an overview of the extent of this type of crime.  In 1997, the police reported that 12% of homicides with a known motive were linked to drugs.([94])  This extremely violent crime once again represents only a portion of total crime in the drug world.  According to Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, a number of these violent crimes result from wars between criminal organizations involved in drug smuggling in Canada.([95])  The data collated by the Service suggest that:


As of the end of 1998, the war between the Hells Angels and the Rock Machine, which began in July 1994, has resulted in 103 homicides, 124 murder attempts, 9 missing persons, 84 bombings and 130 incidents of arson, for a total of 450 violent incidents.([96])


            Apart from these incomplete data, however, it is impossible to quantify all the crime stemming from the illegal drug market in Canada.  The same statement applies to the United States, as there are very few studies on the topic.  However, as noted earlier, one study of drug-related homicides in New York in the 1980s did find that the most common type of drug-related homicide was systemic, accounting for 74% of drug-related homicides in New York City in 1988.([97])  Although few experts question the assertion that violence is an integral part of that market, it is difficult to get a clear handle on this type of crime:


[Translation] Apart from media accounts, very few studies have attempted to verify this model empirically.  One factor that might explain researchers’ lack of interest in this approach lies in the fact that few victims appeal to police departments.  Resellers definitely have no interest in reporting thefts of drugs and money which they have suffered.  If they do, they have every interest in concealing certain information.  They may report an amount of money stolen, taking care not to disclose its source.  Thus it becomes very difficult to identify the systemic crime with any accuracy and to distinguish it from general crime.([98])



             There are very few studies of long-term users, particularly cannabis users, which is surprising considering that cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the world.  The United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNDCP) estimates in their World Drug Report 2000 that 180 million people worldwide used illegal drugs in the late 1990s; of that group, 144.1 million people used cannabis, which represents 3.4% of the world’s population age 15 and older.([99])  One recent study([100]) investigated the characteristics and patterns of cannabis and other drug use among long-term users in the North Coast of New South Wales, a rural area of Australia with high levels of cannabis cultivation and use, and reported the following findings:

·        Characteristics and patterns – The study involved 268 adults with a mean age of 36.4 years.  They were well educated, with 62% having obtained further educational qualifications since leaving school.  Their main sources of income were employment (48%) and government benefits (42%).  Respondents had a long history of regular cannabis use (an average of 19 years), and most had ready access to cannabis, with two-thirds growing cannabis for their own use.  The majority used cannabis daily (60%), with a median of two joints per day.([101])

·        Contexts and perceptions of cannabis use – Cannabis is most often used in social settings with most users (67%) usually or always sharing cannabis with family and friends.  Slightly more than half of the respondents (54%) lived in a household with children under 16 years of age and of these, 52% indicated that they either used less cannabis when the children were around or that they used cannabis away from the children.  Most performed their normal daily activities either during or after smoking cannabis.  The vast majority (90%) reported that they drove a motor vehicle at least occasionally soon after using cannabis and more than half (60%) had operated machinery after using cannabis.  Respondents reported that they used cannabis for relaxation or relief of tension (61%) and for enjoyment or to feel good (27%).  Most respondents also reported some negative aspects of cannabis use including the illegality of cannabis use (29%), the high costs of cannabis (14%), and the social stigma of being a cannabis user (11%).  However, 72% believed that the benefits outweighed the risks.  The most widely used drugs other than cannabis were alcohol and tobacco, but most had also used other illicit drugs in their lifetime.([102])

·        Involvement with the legal system – Just over one-quarter of the respondents (26%) had ever been charged for possession, 11% for cultivation and 6% for supply, and 12% had been arrested for other drug-related offences.  Most of the offences had occurred some years prior to the study with only 22% of cannabis cases in the past three years.  The percentage of non‑drug offences was low, with the most common being drinking-driving (8%), stealing (6%), traffic offences (6%), robbery and assault (3%), and miscellaneous offences (8%).([103])


                        These data are pertinent because they show that some regular cannabis users (an average of almost 20 years of use) commit very few crimes not related to drugs and do not use other illegal drugs on a regular basis.  However, before any conclusions can be drawn, more studies will have to be carried out to analyze the profile of regular users of cannabis and other illegal drugs; this will not be an easy task given the difficulty locating and obtaining input from this type of population, which is still considered a deviant group.



 This paper reviewed a number of studies dealing with the relationship between illegal drug use and crime in an effort to illustrate the complexity of the connection between drug use and crime.

                        After examining the link between the legal status of certain drugs and crime, the paper discussed three theoretical models which endeavour to explain the relationship between drug use and crime:  the psychopharmacological link; the economic-compulsive link; and the systemic link.  A study on regular cannabis users was then presented.

                        The evidence demonstrated that the closest link between drug use and crime occurs in drug users who are dependent on expensive drugs but cannot afford to buy them.  Even then, the relationship is not automatic, because crime is not an inevitable consequence of drug use, even for users who are addicted to drugs such as heroin and cocaine.  Involvement in crime also varies depending on the economic, cultural and social context.  Finally, some users simply choose to stop using drugs rather than commit crimes (with or without the support of organizations which help drug addicts).

            As well, the mere fact that crimes are committed by drug users is not enough to say that drug use does cause crime or vice versa.  It is more likely that drug use intensifies and perpetuates the commission of criminal offences.([104])  Drug use is only one factor among a group of variables that may account for criminal behaviour; other variables include physiological, psychological and behavioural, family, cultural, social, economic and situational factors.  The research does confirm that a number of links can be established between illegal drug use and crime but that those links are not necessarily causal in nature and more closely resemble variables in the complex relationship between drugs and crime.  As Brochu wrote:


[Translation] The relationship between drugs and crime is not as easy to understand as some claim.  The triangular relationship between a person, a product and a behaviour is complex and cannot be defined in a simple formula no matter how appealing.  Care must be taken to avoid the tendency to reduce reality to simplifications that distort it.([105])


            The consequences of this observation for drug intervention and policy development are considerable.  An approach that would fail to treat all factors contributing to drug use and crime or that would attribute a causal role exclusively to drug use would inevitably result in the implementation of ineffective policies.  As suggested by this brief literature review, the whole concept of “drug-related crime” which features in most of the policy documents and research in this area needs to be re-thought.

([1])        The expression is used by Serge Brochu in Drogue et criminalité.  Une relation complexe, Collection perspectives criminologiques, Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1995.

([2])        “Misleading presuppositions about the way people use drugs are built into contemporary language, which, for example, presupposes that most people who use ‘addictive drugs’ like heroin and cocaine are addicted, or will shortly become so.  For this reason the term ‘heroin user’ is often used interchangeably with ‘heroin addict.’  But this presupposition is false […] all psychoactive drugs can be used in many ways, of which addiction is only one, and that the ‘addictive drugs’ do not necessarily carry a higher risk of addiction than the rest.” B.K. Alexander, Peaceful Measures.  Canada’s Way Out of the War on Drugs, University of Toronto Press, 1990, p. 102.

([3])        S. Brochu, “Drogues et criminalité :  Point de vue critique sur les idées véhiculées,” Déviance et société, Vol. 21, No. 3, 1997, pp. 307-308.

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