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Drugs and Crime: Behavioral Aspects

The Criminal Model Of Drug Abuse, The Harrison Act Of 1914, Early Research Initiatives, Contemporary Drugs And Crime Research

For more than a century, there have been differences of opinion regarding the relationship between the use of illegal drugs (specifically narcotics and cocaine) and criminal behavior. While representatives of the criminal justice system, the medical profession, and academia have reflected numerous points of view and have espoused widely differing reasons for their interest in the topic, a detailed and focused analysis of the issues and the literature suggests that a variety of questions need to be addressed. For example, is criminal behavior, first of all, antecedent to addiction; or is the former a phenomenon that appears subsequent to the onset of addiction? More specifically, is crime the result of or response to a special set of life circumstances brought about by the addiction to illegal drugs, or is addiction per se a deviant tendency characteristic of individuals already prone to committing predatory crimes? Secondly, and assuming that criminality may indeed be a pre-addiction phenomenon, does the onset of the chronic use of narcotics, cocaine, and other illicit drugs bring about a change in the intensity and frequency of illegal acts? Does criminal involvement tend to increase or decrease subsequent to addiction? Finally, what kinds of criminal offenses do addicts engage in? Do they tend toward violent acts of aggression; or are their crimes more profit-oriented and limited to thefts and drug sales; or both? One might also ask, Is there any relationship at all between the two phenomena? Whatever the studies may have concluded, can the derived relationships be attributed to differential police behavior, to defects in survey designs, to purposeful or unintended bias, to the structure and functional application of laws circumscribing statuses characteristic of drug-using behaviors, or to a spectrum of changes that have occurred through time? Is our present state of knowledge no more than myth, or too fragmented for a composite picture?

Given these questions, the purpose of this entry is to review and analyze a number of the major research efforts in these areas of inquiry, and to provide a framework for their interpretation. Furthermore, commentary is offered relative to some basic issues that must be addressed when studying drug-taking and drug-seeking behaviors as they may relate to criminal activity.



Linder v. U.S., 268 U.S. 5 (1925).

U.S. v. Behrman, 258 U.S. 280 (1922).

Webb v. U.S., 249 U.S. 96 (1919).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law