The Drug Industry and Crime


The illicit drug industry is a collection of wide-reaching black market activities such as distribution, manufacture, cultivation and even the sale of controlled and illegal drugs. Estimates indicate that profitability within this industry exceeded three hundred billion last year.

The Drug industry’s relation to crime

It has been shown that there are a wide range of individuals who belong to these operations and they form part of the supply chain. At the bottom of this chain are street peddlers who deal directly with clients then there are middle men who contract the drugs and at the top are multinationals who are responsible for the manufacture of these commodities. As the name suggests, illegal drugs are forbidden by the law and traders have to dedicate diverse resources in order to protect their merchandise from being detected by law enforcers. Examples of drugs that form the backbone of the illicit drug industry are opium, cannabis, heroin, pharmaceuticals, anabolic steroids, morphine and methamphetamine. Lyman (2007) asserts that drug taking is one of the most influential factors in crime commissions. However, illicit drugs are quite diverse and it is therefore essential for lawmakers to take great care in ensuring that evidence is duly preserved.

In some ways, there are substantial correlations between drugs and crime. First of all, because drugs have been outlawed, then using them automatically implies committing a crime. Any person who uses, sells, distributes or even manufactures drugs is committing a drug related crime. This is the reason why anyone involved in the latter activities is likely to have faced the long arm of the law. Aside from that, overwhelming evidence from law enforcers also indicates that there are substantial links between the use of drugs and the commission on non drug crimes. For instance a study carried out the National Household Drug Abuse group found that the ratio of assault charge commission by non drug users to drug users was 1:9. It also found that the ratio of theft commissions by non dugs users to drug users was 1: 16 and driving under the influence was 1: 14. Clearly, there must be a correlation between these two factors if one is to restrict oneself to observable characteristics alone.

Therefore, one can deduce that there are three categories of crimes committed as a result of the illicit drug industry. The first are drug defined crimes which are caused as a result of the prohibition of these activities. The second are drug related crimes which are caused by the need for users to obtain cash so as to service their drug habit and the third category of crimes are those ones that emanate out of the drug industry lifestyle. Users and drug providers alike are all caught up in a vicious cycle where they are removed from the legitimate economy. This eventually exposes them to criminal skills or opportunities that necessitate crime (Morrison, 2004).

Studies carried out by the National Crime victimization group further validate the latter assertions because they asserted that thirty percent of victims who had been subjected to violent crimes thought that their assailants were under the influence of drugs. Thirty percent could not indentify whether this was the case or not. As if that is not enough, it has been shown that more often than not, criminal suspects have drugs in their bodies as revealed by mandatory urine testing after arrests. In the year 1998, the degree of drug usage among immediately arrested suspects was found to be alarmingly high. For example, in the State of New York, it was found that almost eighty one percent of all the suspects were positive for substance abuse. In the state of Pennsylvania, the percentage was a whooping seventy nine percent while in the State of Alaska this amount was thirty three percent. It should be noted that these figures also varied with the gender of the concerned party as well as the type of crime committed by the suspect. Burglary, theft of motor vehicles and robbery were strongly related to high percentage outcomes for drug use. Furthermore, those people who were victims of drug use were often found to be positive for use of other types of drugs. But this poly drug tendency was more pronounced among opium users. Similar observations were made among juvenile offenders who also utilized marijuana when carrying out their crimes. Even studies carried out among incarcerated individuals found that in some crimes (especially the non personal ones) inmates claimed that they were indeed under the influence of drugs. For instance, those who had been convicted of committing robbery, murder or weapons offenses confessed to this fact (Department of Justice, 1999).

It is quite interesting to note that more often than not, the drug habit will push people to commit crimes as they are prepared to do anything to get to the next drug high. Seventeen percent of all inmates in federal prisons during the past decade admitted that they had been pushed into crime so that they could get money for purchasing drugs. Aside from that, it has also been shown that there is a strong relationship between persons operating in the drug industry and the use of violence. This can be attributed to the immense level of competition between drug sellers who have to result to violence in order to secure their markets. Another probable cause could be the high propensity for disputes between the parties and the intense situation involved in drug trafficking. Usually, most drugs are sold in low income locations that are characterized by ineffective law enforcement. In fact, narcotics related killings account for the fourth most prevalent circumstance for homicide cases in law enforcement.

If one were to dwell entirely on statistics, then it can be plausible to assume that drug use substantially causes crime. However, such an analysis would be incomplete if some sociological perspectives on the matter were not sought.

An analysis carried out by Benson and Rasmussen (1996) found that the link between drugs and crime is not as strong as some parties would like to believe. The latter individuals looked at the war on drugs declared by law enforcers during the nineteen eighties. Law enforcers carried out this operation with the hope of reducing none drug crimes as it was understood that drug use led to commission of crimes. However, after intense dedication of time and resources, there was still no substantial reduction in drug use and the rates of crimes prevalent within federal states actually increased.

Rasmussen and Benson (1996) further claim that the latter has occurred because of a misguided notion. They assert that there is a small link between crime and drugs since only a slight percentage of all violent or property criminals actually use drugs. Additionally, these authors add that drugs do not directly cause individuals to commit crimes. They add that most criminals started using drugs long after they had started committing none drug crimes. This implies that none drug crimes first occur they are subsequently followed by drug use charges. Anti drug use proponents have always assumed that the opposite is true i.e. that Drug use preceded commission of crime. In a survey carried out by these writers, a high proportion of inmates claimed that their drug use commenced some two years after they had been arrested.

Sometimes it may be necessary to carry out a trade off between fighting the illicit drug industry and curbing none drug crimes. The former mentioned operation requires substantial investment in resources and this often leads to counterproductive efforts by law enforcers in curbing crime. The latter individuals asserted that in the nineteen eighties when the war on drugs campaign had been instituted, it was found that state property crimes went up by sixteen percent. The latter findings can also be explained by the high level of arrests carried out during such operations. Since prisons have been tailor made for certain populations, increased arrests led to overcrowding and ineffectiveness of law enforcement among inmates. In this regard, recidivism rates became much higher than if the ‘war on drugs’ operation had not been implemented.

Not only did the drug war fail in reduction of crime, but it also failed in reducing drug use as well. Studies show that stakeholders in the illicit drug industry were pushed into more innovative ways of evading law enforcers. For instance, some of them began producing their own drugs locally so as to escape detection in border checks. Also, some of them started using young children as peddlers so as to go unsuspected while others changed their product specialty from powder cocaine to crack cocaine which is quite difficult to detect. All this intense attention given by law enforcers served to make drug distributers, manufacturers and sellers more vigilant in their endeavors.

Goode (2008) explains that there is indeed a connection between drugs and crime but it is not as intense as the public would like to believe and it is also not as direct as many people would assume. He accepts the fact that the degree of crime commission among drug users is substantially higher than it is among none drug users. However, instead of merely focusing on these figures and drawing conclusions, it may be more important to first look into some of the underlying issues surrounding such observations. Goode (2008) says that there are two schools of thought when it comes to the latter issues. The first notion is propagated by criminalizers who support intensification of resources towards curbing drug use. These proponents believe that by doing this, then users will minimize consumption of drugs and this will also reduce crime rate substantially.

On the other hand, legalizers have the opposite remedy. They believe that this would drastically reduce the price of drugs and hence eliminate the need to look for money through violent means and in the end; this may lead to reduction in crimes. Proponents of this school of thought argue that such an approach would eliminate the criminalization of drug taking. In other words, instead of overcrowding prisons, persons using drugs would be taken to treatment programs. Aside from that, law enforcers will have more time to curb other forms of crime. Not only will legalization lead to less crime in other sectors, but it would also lead to substantial decreases in violence within the illicit drug industry. This is because legal drugs will not be as profitable as the previously illegal ones and gangs will not be as attracted to this trade as they previously were when the commodities were illegal. As it has been asserted earlier, most drugs are exorbitantly high because of the high degree of caution that distributors and sellers have to take when evading law enforcers.

Goode (2008) further adds that it is critical to first differentiate between those crimes caused as a direct result of drug use and those ones that are committed because of the very fact that the drug industry is illicit. The latter author proposes legalization of drugs but he explains that this does not guarantee actual reduction in drug cries unless the types of programs used to implement it are reexamined. For instance, alcohol causes more arrests than any illegal drug because a large number of people use it and the police have several charges that are related to alcohol such as ‘driving under the influence’. Instead, it may be more plausible to impose fewer restrictions upon legalization of such a commodity.

However, there are three models under which one can understand the issue of drugs and crime. The first is the enslavement model which propels the notion that drug users are attracted to crimes solely because of their addiction to it. It assumes that if drugs are made freely available even through a maintenance program, individuals will stop committing crimes. The second model is the criminal model which argues that criminals often take drugs because this is indicative of their lifestyle. Proponents of this school of thought believe that no degree of drug availability will prevent them from committing crimes and they must be penalized at all costs. The intensification model holds the view that drugs and crime are both symptoms of a larger problem which is a deviant character. However, they believe that drugs do not cause or create crimes, instead, they intensify it. Consequently, legalizing drugs would reduce but not end crime. Goode (2008) ends his assertion by saying that there is no single response to the problem of crimes and drugs and given the evidence seen above, one can see why this is true.


The problem of drugs and crimes cannot be solved with one approach. A balance must be sought between legalization and penalization. A very liberal market would increase availability of the drugs and thus cause more crimes. Also, it does not guarantee reduced commission of crime since drug lords may be attracted to another high risk, illegal activity for high levels of profits. In other words, root causes behind the use of drugs ought to be addressed so as to eliminate this problem.


Benson, B. & Rasmussen, D. (1996). Illicit Drugs and crime. Web.

Department of Justice (1999). Drugs and Crime. Uniform Crime reports 33, 45.

Goode, E. (2008). Drugs in American Society. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Lyman, M (2007). Practical Drug Enforcement. Boca Raton: Taylor and Francis Publishers.

Morrison, V. (2004). Related behavior and psychoactive substance use. Journal of Drug Alcohol dependency 23 (2), 102.

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