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Drug Use and Crime
Throughout history a close relationship has been documented between drug use and crime using well developed methodology from researchers such as the Paul Goldstein and Alex Stevens. The tripartite model offered by Paul Goldstein suggests that drugs are connected to crime through one of three measures; pharmacological, economic-compulsive, or lifestyle. Pharmacological offenses are offenses that are psychopharmacology induced or the result of a response to the intoxicating effects of a drug. Economic-compulsive offenses refer to offenses or crimes which are driven by a need to buy drugs. Finally, lifestyle offenses refer to drug use being part of a pattern of criminal behaviors not driven by or the result of drug use. Alex Stevens however, went on to argue that the Goldstein model did not account for certain drug users. “In a lifestyle of obtaining and spending money, of using and selling drugs, they can combine the mainstream values of work, success and consumption with the subterranean values of adventure, excitement and hedonism” (Stevens, 2011, p. 45).
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Over the years an abundance of literature consistently reveals that the use of alcohol and other drugs has had a multiplying effect on crime (Deitch, Koutsenok, & Ruiz, 2000). Some researchers suggest that there is no difference between the social status of drug users in their tendencies to be delinquent when drugs are readily available. For instance, physicians work to hold a higher-class status yet are consistently partaking in the illicit use of drugs due to the high availability coupled with the strenuous nature of their work. In reference to adolescents, research has shown a strong correlation between conduct problems and exposure to, as well as the use of illegal drugs. As a general rule of thumb; those who use narcotics are more likely than their peers to be delinquent.
When addressing the reduction of crime, one should consider the nature of the relationship between crime rates and drug use. Does criminal behavior precede drug use, or does drug use precede criminal behavior? Considering that the simple act of criminalizing the use of drugs in itself makes anyone using guilty of breaking the law and plunges them into an industry whose dispute resolution is based largely on violence, one might conclude that the specific variables which lead to the use of drugs are congruent to those variables which lead to crime. Unfortunately, until a direct relationship can be determined, any attempts at reducing crime rates based on this cause-and-effect phenomenon would be inefficient at best, and ineffective at worst.
Portugal serves to be an example of a community which has had success in reducing drug related crime rates with the implementation of cutting-edge programs. Their program is based on the theory that drug use should be addressed as a health issue rather than that of crime, and is focused on harm reduction treatment, and rehabilitation. Portugal’s program included the decriminalization of all drugs and instead focuses police attention on drug traffickers. Those who are found to be using drugs in Portugal do not face any type of criminal charges, but will instead be sent before Lisbon’s dissuasion commissioner, a sociologist who provides state mandated early intervention. Portugal has successfully reduced crime rates by decriminalizing all drugs, while simultaneously reducing the occurrence of drug induced deaths, accidents, disabilities, addictions, and crimes. Portugal was also successful in reducing the overall use of drugs by extending the theory that drug addiction is not a crime but is a health concern, and those suffering from the disease of drug addiction should be not only be treated with the same dignity as any medical patient but they should also be extended the resources needed to air in their recovery (CBS News: The National, 2017).
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The community plays a large part on the effect of drugs and the stigma behind its use. Many users who are attempting to recover from their disease are met with great difficulty when facing their community members throughout recovery. It is important that people feel as though they have something to offer their community, and that they are accepted by their community members. Unfortunately, addicts are often shunned by the community members even after recovery leading to feelings of shame, inadequacy, worthlessness and rejection, which in turn reinforces behaviors such as aggression, avoidance, and dependence again spinning the wheel of cause-and-effect.
A successful program which can be implemented in order to reduce drug related crime rates would include a combination of the decriminalization of drugs, the materialization of educational programs addressing drug use, and the redefining of drug addiction as a health epidemic rather than a criminal behavior. Furthermore, drug users should have resources made available to them should they decide to seek help on their own accord, and information about how to access these programs should be readily available. The replacement of criminal proceedings with rehabilitation and recovery programs may prove to be beneficial as well. Finally, the community must be involved. Police should immerse themselves within the community being the eyes and ears of the streets but also getting to know the community members regardless of social status or class. Community members often feel a sense of empowerment when they are made to feel useful to their neighborhood so law enforcement should work to develop relationships and gain the trust of their community members in order to best communicate what these community members can do to assist. The community should be educated on the effects of not only drug use and addiction, but of the social stigmas behind this supposed delinquent behavior. When community members change their perceptions of drug use their approach to addiction and recovery will change as well. When people are forced to face their most difficult personal battles alone they often end up in despair, not knowing where to turn or how to help themselves which results in an increased likelihood of poor conduct. With the support of community and without the weight of social stigma or the possibility of criminal charges, those struggling with addiction will be more likely to come forward seeking help, and less likely to attempt to face the carnage alone.
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