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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Drug Addiction, Crime or Disease?

Drug Addiction, Crime or Disease?

Interim and Final Reports of the Joint Committee of the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association on Narcotic Drugs.

Appendix A

Some Basic Problems in Drug Addiction and Suggestions for Research*



One of the compelling reasons why more rational methods of dealing with drug addicts must be devised is the close relationship between drug addiction and crime. The compulsion for the drug makes every drug addict a law violator and a criminal. Mere possession of a narcotic drug which the addict must have to ward off withdrawal distress is a violation of the narcotic laws. Thus, every drug addict is subject to arrest by the police, and as we have seen, the arrests of addicts and of narcotic law violators have gone up by leaps and bounds. Addicts guilty of no other crime than illegal possession of narcotics are filling the jails, prisons and penitentiaries of the country.

However, this is only a part of the distressing picture of the relationship between narcotic addiction and criminality. For most narcotic addicts, predatory crime (larceny, shoplifting, sneak thievery, burglary, embezzlement, robbery, etc.), is a necessary way of life. This was clearly recognized by the law enforcement officials who appeared before the Congressional Committees and gave testimony concerning the close relationship between property crime and drug addiction in their communities. These officials were convinced that property crimes could be reduced materially if all drug addicts could be incarcerated.

The New York University and the Chicago studies on drug addiction support the notion that drug addiction necessarily leads to predatory crime as a way of life. For example, Chein and Rosenfeld make the following comments based on their studies of juvenile addicts: "Drug use leads to a criminal way of life. The illegality of purchase and possession of opiates and similar drugs makes a drug user a delinquent ipso facto. The high cost of heroin, the drug generally used by juvenile users, also forces specific delinquency against property for cash returns. The average addicted youngster spends almost forty dollars a week on drugs, often as much as seventy dollars. He is too young and unskilled to be able to support his habit by his earnings. The connection between drug use and delinquency for profit has been established beyond any doubt."56 A Chicago study comes to a similar conclusion: "...Almost without exception addicts resort to theft to obtain money for the purchase of the drugs. The compulsion of the addiction itself coupled with the astronomically high cost of heroin leads the addict inescapably to crime. For the addict there is very simply no alternative."57 There has been considerable debate as to whether the criminality of the addict preceded or is merely a consequence of the drug addiction. Studies like those of Pescor can be cited for the proposition that most narcotic addicts became delinquents and criminals after the onset of their addiction. Pescor found in 1943. that of the 1,036 patients at Lexington, studied by him, 75.3% had no history of delinquency prior to addiction.58 Anslinger, however, has the always taken the view that the drug addict was usually a criminal first before becoming addicted.59 The answer to the question of whether the addict was a delinquent or criminal prior to addiction largely depends upon the particular groups of addicts studied. For example, Kolb60, in 1928, studied a group of 119 so called "medical addicts", persons who became addicted to drugs as a result of the prescription of narcotics for ailments other than addiction. Kolb found that of these 119 addicts, 90 had never previously been arrested. However, the studies conducted in New York and Chicago present a different picture. These studies of drug addiction were conducted in areas with high rates of delinquency and crime. They were also concerned with youthful and adolescent offenders. The conclusion from the Chicago and New York studies is inescapable that "delinquency both preceded and followed addiction to heroin."61 "Persons who became users," stated the Chicago report, "were found to have engaged in delinquency in a group habitual form either prior to their use of drugs or simultaneously with their developing interest in drugs. There was little evidence of a consistent sequence from drug use without delinquency to drug use with delinquency."62 Nevertheless, even in the delinquency areas of our large cities, there are persons who become addicted to drugs without a prior career of delinquency and crime. After addiction, however, they will usually turn to delinquency and crime "often after overcoming severe psychological conflict occasioned by their repugnance to theft."63 Moreover, the addict who had previously been a delinquent loses all chance of shaking off habits of delinquency and crime as he grows older. Not all non addicted delinquents and adolescent offenders living in the delinquency areas of our large cities grow up to be habitual and professional criminals. Many abandon their delinquent and criminal pursuits when they reach early adulthood. They find jobs, marry and settle down to productive lives. But if the delinquent or adolescent offender adds narcotic addiction to his patterns of behavior, ". ..All possible future retreat from a delinquent mode of life is cut off regardless of whatever later impulses they may have to reject a criminal career in favor of a conventional one. They are constrained by their unremitting need and the high cost of heroin to continue in crime. This interpretation supports the conclusion that drug addiction results in a large and permanent increase in the volume of crime."64 Thus, the realities of the relationship between narcotic addiction and crime appear to be much more somber than the romantic myth, "that hold-up men, murderers, rapists and other violent criminals take drugs to give them courage or stamina to go through with acts which they might not commit when not drugged."65 Dr. Kolb has labeled this notion an "absurd fallacy." The crimes committed by opiate addicts are generally of a parasitic, predatory nonviolent character. Drug addicts may, on occasion, commit violent crimes. This is hardly surprising since so many are classified as psychopaths. A psychopath tends towards serious criminality with or without drug addiction. Generally, however, the use of opiate drugs (whatever may be the case with marihuana and cocaine) tends to discourage violent crime. As Maurer and Vogel point out: "The sense of well-being and satisfaction with the world are so strong that, coupled with the depressant action of the drug, the individual is unlikely to commit aggressive or violent crime after he is addicted, even though he habitually or professionally did so previous to addiction. In the words of Kolb, 'Both heroin and morphine in large doses change drunken fighting psychopaths into sober, cowardly, non-aggressive idlers ...' "...To date, there has been no evidence collected to show that any significant percentage of opiate addicts commit violent crimes either professionally or casually while under the influence of these drugs ... the reduction or elimination of sexual desire tends to remove the opiate addict from the category of psychopathic sex offenders, even though he might have a tendency to commit sex crimes when not addicted ..."66 Since opiate drugs do not act as a stimulant for the commission of violent crime, should not confirmed addicts have a means of obtaining such drugs legally, so that they will not have to engage in crime in order to raise the money necessary for their needs? This basic question goes to the heart of our present policy in dealing with drugs addiction.

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