Chapter 21, Section 6

Drugs and Victims of Crime

Abstract: Much of today's violence is related to drug trafficking and substance abuse. Correlations between substance abuse, violence and victimization are important issues for victim service providers to understand. In addition, victimization extends beyond individuals to entire communities that are paralyzed by drug-related criminal activity.

Learning Objectives: Upon completion of this chapter, students will understand the following concepts:

  1. The methodologies employed to study drugs and crime.
  2. Recent data on the connection between drugs and victimization.
  3. How drug-related crimes, often considered "victimless," affect many victims.
  4. Current developments in drug prevention programs.

Statistical Overview

Drugs and Crime: The Connection to Victimization

"No where are the consequences of drug use and drug trafficking more visible than in the magnitude and patterns of drug-related violence" (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 1995).


Illicit drug use and related problems are taking a tremendous toll on our society. The National Drug Control Strategy cites one source as estimating that "the cost of drug use to the nation's taxpayers [is] nearly $67 billion. Not the least of the problems associated with drug use is criminal victimization."

A substantial amount of violent victimization appears to be directly or indirectly related to substance abuse. Obviously, drugs are directly involved in drug trafficking crimes, and related homicides and violence. Indirectly, when crimes are committed for the purpose of supporting drug addictions, the connection is also present. A review of important statistics in this area is necessary to provide a foundational understanding of the drug-victimization connection.

According the Office of National Drug Control Policy:

Nationally the number of drug-related murders has risen steadily since the mid-1980s, peaking at 7.4 percent of all murders in 1989. Since then, the rate has declined to 5.2 percent of all murders, but this level of drug-related violence is still unacceptable.

However, it is not just homicide that involves drugs as an integral precursor. Other crimes of violence, and serious property crimes, are related to drugs and addictions. The support for this notion comes from several sources, including victim perceptions, offender self-report data, and drug testing studies.

Victim Perceptions and Inmate Reports

Several studies confirm the notion that drug and alcohol use is often present during the commission of crimes. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that in 1992:

Other data generally support these perceptions. A BJS corrections survey indicates that significant numbers of all incarcerated individuals confirm that they were under the influence of an illegal drug when they committed their crimes, as follows: one-quarter of jail inmates, one-third of state prisoners, and two-fifths of long-term juvenile placements.

Many of these crimes involved crimes against persons. BJS notes that 18% of homicide perpetrators, 14% of assault perpetrators, and 36% of robbers admitted being under the influence of drugs at the time of the offense.

Relying upon these "self-report" data provided by inmates can be very useful, but has its limitations. Often self-reported data carry with them certain unreliability or invalidity due to the various motivations of those answering the questions. Another approach to gauging the drug-crime connection may provide a more reality-based assessment.

Drug Testing of Adult Arrestees

The Drug Use Forecasting (DUF) project of the National Institute of Justice utilizes a much more direct data collection methodology. DUF data is collected through urine samples collected from arrested detainees in selected sites across the U.S. These arrestees have been in the respective facilities for less than 48 hours. Although the individual must voluntarily agree to the specimen being taken, apparently compliance rates are significant. Samples are lab tested for an array of substances.

Although comprehensive, DUF focuses on serious crimes, including the array of violent crimes against persons, and serious property crimes. Therefore, DUF data provide significant insight into the drug-victimization connection.

Marijuana Male 21%-42% median 28%

Female 9%-25% median 16.5%

Cocaine Male 19%-66% median 43%

Female 19%-70% median 46%

Opiates Male 1%-28%

Female 3%-23%

These data clearly indicate that drugs are related to considerable victimization in the adult offender population. The same holds true with juvenile offenders.

Juvenile Drug Use and Crime

The relationship between drug use and juvenile crime appears to confirm anecdotal accounts. Citing a recent Parent Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE) study, the National Drug Control Strategy notes there appears to be a strong correlation between drug use and crime among the nation's youth.

Testing Juvenile Offenders

The DUF project reports data on male juvenile detainees. The methodology is similar to that reported above for adult arrestees. There was a wide variation among sites in juvenile testing rates; however, the averages noted in the 1993 DUF report are instructive.

Drug-related Crimes: Who Are the Victims?

It is often stated (and believed) that drug-related crimes are "victimless." To the contrary, substance abuse is directly correlated to many crimes within families; in addition, communities and society as a whole are victimized by drug traffickers and substance abusers.

Intrafamilial Crime and Victimization

Community and Societal Victimization

The costs to neighborhoods and society that are directly attributable to substance abuse are significant in terms of their financial, as well as social and environmental impacts:

Drug-related Victim Initiatives

Victims and their advocates can and should become part of the numerous drug-related initiatives that exist in communities large and small across America. Indeed, victims and their perspectives can provide a tremendously untapped source of insight to this issue. Coordinated efforts, as evidenced by the following example, are key to stopping drug abuse that terrorizes neighborhoods:

For one and a half years, tenants in an apartment building on Manhattan's Lower East Side complained repeatedly to the police about neighbors who were conducting illegal drug sales from their apartment. Police arrested the tenant, a woman living with her four children aged 15 to 21, for possession of heroin and narcotics paraphernalia. Police testified that they observed a handgun and 21 glassine envelopes of heroin "cascading" out of the apartment window. Inside her apartment, police seized an electronic currency counting machine, two triple beam scales, a bullet-proof vest, 20 to 30 pairs of sneakers (used by drug runners), a flare gun, two walkie-talkies, and nearly $23,000 in cash. Yet the family continued to use the apartment as a base for selling drugs.

Eventually, the Manhattan District Attorney's Narcotics Eviction Program petitioned the court to evict the tenant under the authority of the Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law, a state civil statute. The tenant argued that she should not be evicted because police did not find any drugs or evidence of drug sales in her apartment. Judge Peter Tom, however, authorized the eviction because the civil statute does not require the district attorney to prove that the tenant committed a specific crime. The district attorney only has to present evidence warranting the conclusion that the premises are being used for an illegal business. The family was evicted from the apartment after the trial, and the landlord re-rented the unit to another tenant who left his neighbors in peace.

The eviction process involves three principal steps: screening the case, notifying the landlord and tenant, and going to court. The program asks the landlord to begin eviction proceedings against tenants who are using or allowing others to use their apartment to sell drugs. If the landlord refuses to act, the district attorney's office has the authority under the Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law to initiate eviction proceedings in court as though it were the owner or landlord of the premises.

In many towns and cities, drug dealing is a major problem that not only disrupts the lives of law-abiding tenants, but also ties up criminal justice system resources. Efforts to arrest and prosecute drug traffickers often fail to solve the problem because the crime cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Even if drug dealers are convicted and jailed, the process may take over a year. Because they are often not the tenant of record, they may be quickly replaced by other drug traffickers. However, as the vignette above illustrates, using a civil -- rather than criminal statute -- the Manhattan District Attorney's Narcotics Eviction Program can permanently rid apartment buildings of drug dealers (Finn, 1995).


All crime victims would, of course, agree that their first desire would be to not be victimized in the first place. This involves, at least in part, a call for expansion and enhancement of crime prevention programs. The connection between drugs and victimization offers a good reason for victim service providers to consider becoming involved in drug prevention efforts in their communities.

Drug prevention programs come in many forms and variations (DuPont, 1990). Major categories of these programs include, but are not limited to, the following:

Victims and advocates can contribute significantly to these efforts. For example, describing the drug-victimization connection in school and community presentations on drug prevention and/or victim assistance issues is essential. Also, as many of the community-based efforts involve organized and coordinated inter-agency or collaborative efforts, a representative with a victim's perspective needs to be at the planning table. Victim service providers and related professionals should inventory the programs that exist in their areas and become an integral part of these efforts.

Drug-related Criminal Justice Reform

In addition to important prevention efforts, drug-related law enforcement and criminal justice activities are an important part of a concerted program to combat illicit drug use. The victim's perspective is a compelling and necessary element to fully understand of the effects of drug use on our society. Victims and their advocates can and should offer their perspectives to policy-makers as drug-related criminal justice reform measures are adopted in various jurisdictions.

Self Examination Chapter 21, Section 6

Drugs and Victims of Crime

1) Describe the various methods of demonstrating linkage between drugs and victimization.

2) Choose two statistics relevant to the correlation between drugs and victimization, and describe how you would incorporate these into a presentation on drugs, crime and victimization.

3) Cite two examples of how substance abuse directly creates and/or affects victims.

4) Cite two examples of how communities and societies can be "victimized" by substance abuse.


Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1994). Drugs and crime facts. Rockville, MD: ONCDCP Drugs and Crime Clearinghouse, National Criminal Justice Reference Service.

DuPont, R. L. (1990). Stopping alcohol and other drug use before it starts: The future of prevention. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Finn, P. (1995). The Manhattan district attorney's narcotics eviction program. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

National Institute of Justice. (1993). Drug use forecasting: Annual report on adult arrestees: Drugs and crime in America's cities. Washington, DC: Author.

National Institute of Justice. (1993). Drug use forecasting: Annual report on juvenile arrestees/detainees: Drugs and crime in America's cities. Washington, DC: Author.

Office of National Drug Control Policy. (1995, April). National drug control strategy. Executive Summary. The White House: Executive Office of the President of the United States.

To Chapter 21-Section 7

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