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Bureau of Justice Statistics
U.S. Department of Justice
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Page last revised on June 21, 2000

Drug use and crime in the U.S.

At the time of the offense | Drug use at arrest | Prior drug use by offenders


At the time of the offense

Drug-related crime

Overall, 16% of convicted jail inmates said they had committed their offense to get money for drugs. Of convicted property and drug offenders, about 1 in 4 had committed their crimes to get money for drugs. A higher percentage of drug offenders in 1996 (24%) than in 1989 (14%) were in jail for a crime committed to raise money for drugs.

Percent of jail inmates who committed offense to get money for drugs

Offense 1996 1989

  Total 15.8 % 13.3 %
Violent 8.8 11.5
Property 25.6 24.4
Drugs 23.5 14.0
Public-order 4.2 3.3

Source: BJS, Profile of Jail Inmates, 1996, NCJ 164620, April 1998.

In 1997 19% of State prisoners, and 16% of Federal inmates said they committed their current offense to obtain money for drugs. These percentages represent a slight increase from 1991, when 17% of State and 10% of Federal prisoners identified drug money as a motive for their current offense.

Source: BJS, Substance Abuse and Treatment, State and Federal Prisoners, 1997, NCJ 172871, January 1999.

The Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported that in 1997, 5.1% of the 15,289 homicides in which circumstances were known were narcotics related. Those murders that occurred specifically during a narcotics felony, such as drug trafficking or manufacturing, are considered drug related.

Drug-related homicides

Year Number
of homicides
Percent
drug
related

1986 19,257 3.9 %
1987 17,963 4.9
1988 17,971 5.6
1989 18,954 7.4
1990 20,273 6.7
1991 21,676 6.2
1992 22,716 5.7
1993 23,180 5.5
1994 22,084 5.6
1995 20,232 5.0
1996 15,848 4.9
1997 15,289 5.1

Note: Includes only those homicides where circumstances
were known.

Source: Table constructed by ONDCP Drug Policy Information Clearinghouse staff from FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, Crime in the United States, annually.

Offenders under the influence at the time of the offense

Victim's perception

On average each year from 1992 to 1995, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, there were 11.1 million violent victimizations of residents age 12 or older. Victims of violence were asked to describe whether they perceived the offender to have been drinking or using drugs.

  • About 16% of the victims of violence reported that the offender was using drugs, alone or in combination with alcohol.
  • Based on victim perceptions, about 2.7 million violent crimes occurred each year in which victims were certain that the offender had been drinking. For about 1 in 5 of these violent victimizations involving alcohol use by the offender, victims believed the offender was also using drugs at the time of the offense.

Victim's perception of offender drug use chart

Click on the chart to view the data.

Victims' perception of the use of alcohol or drugs by violent offenders, by victim-offender relationship, 1995

Offender using
:

Victim-offender
relationship

Total

Alcohol

Drugs
Drugs or alcohol
Neither drugs nor alcohol

  All victim of violence 100 % 28
%
7
%
9 % 56 %
Intimate* 100 55 9 12 25
Nonmarital relative 100 38 14 12 36
Acquaintance 100 28 9 10 52
Stranger 100 24 6 7 63

Note: Excludes "don't know" from calculations.
*Includes current or former spouse, boyfriend, and girlfriend.

Source: BJS, National Crime Victimization Survey as reported in Alcohol and Crime, NCJ 168632, April 1998.

American Indian victims

Alcohol and drug use was a factor in more than half of violent crimes against American Indians.

Substantial differences can be found by race in the reports of victims of violence of their perceptions of drug and alcohol use by offenders. Among those who could describe alcohol or drug use by offenders, American Indian victims of violence were the most likely to report such perceived use by the offender.

Overall, in 55% of American Indian violent victimizations, the victim said the offender was under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. The offender's use of alcohol and/or drugs was somewhat less likely in violent crimes committed against whites (44%) or blacks (35%).

Violent crime, by the perceived drug or alcohol use of the offender and by race of victim, 1992-96

Perceived drug or alcohol
use by offender

Race of victim
Total
Alcohol
Drugs
Both
Neither

Total
100
%
28
%
8
%
7
%
57
%
American Indian 100 38 9 8 45
White 100 29 8 7 56
Black 100 21 7 7 65
Asian 100 20 3 2 75

Note: Table excludes those respondents who were unable to report whether or not they perceived the offender to have been using drugs or alcohol.

Source: BJS, American Indians and Crime, NCJ 173386, February 1999.

Perspectives of jail inmates and State probationers and prisoners

Probationers

The first national survey of adults on probation, conducted in 1995, reported that 14% of probationers were on drugs when they committed their offense.

Source: BJS, Substance Abuse and Treatment of Adults on Probation, 1995, NCJ 166611, March 1998.

Among probationers, 49% of the mentally ill and 46% of others reported alcohol or drug use at the time of the offense.

Source: BJS, Mental Health and Treatment and Inmates and Probationers, NCJ 174463, July 1999.

Prisoners

In the 1997 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 33% of State prisoners and 22% of Federal prisoners said they had committed their current offense while under the influence of drugs. Drug offenders (42%) and property offenders (37%) reported the highest incidence of drug use at the time of the offense.

Source: BJS, Substance Abuse and Treatment, State and Federal Prisoners, 1997, NCJ 172871, January 1999.

About 60% of mentally ill and 51% of other inmates in State prison were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of their current offense.

Source: BJS, Mental Health and Treatment and Inmates and Probationers, NCJ 174463, July 1999.

Abused State inmates were more likely than those reporting no abuse to have been using illegal drugs at the time of their offense. This pattern occurred especially among female inmates. Forty-six percent of the abused women committed their current offense under the influence of illegal drugs. Among women who were not abused, 32% committed their offense while on drugs.

Source: BJS, Prior Abuse Reported by Inmates and Probationers, NCJ 172879, April 1999.

Jail inmates

Thirty-six percent of convicted jail inmates said they were using drugs at the time of their offense in 1996, compared to 27% in 1989. Almost 2 in 10 were using marijuana in 1996, compared to 1 in 10 in 1989. Approximately 6% in 1996 and 2% in 1989 were using amphetamine or other stimulants. In both 1996 and 1989 about 15% were on cocaine or crack at the time of the offense.

Those jail inmates convicted of drug trafficking (60%), drug possession (57%), fraud (45%), or robbery (44%) were most likely to have reported to be using drugs at the time of the offense.

Source: BJS, Profile of Jail Inmates, 1996, NCJ 164620, April 1998.

According the Surveys of Inmates in State Correctional Facilities, 1991, and Inmates in local Jails, 1996, more than half of prison and jail inmates with an intimate victim had been drinking or using drugs when they committed the violent crime.

Source: BJS, Violence by Intimates, NCJ 167237, March 1998.

Sixty-five percent of mentally ill jail inmates and 57% of other jail inmates were under the influence of both alcohol and drug use at the time of the offense. These percentages were the highest compared to State inmates and probationers.

Source: BJS, Mental Health and Treatment of Inmates and Probationers, NCJ 174463, July 1999.

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Drug use at arrest

In 1998 the Arrestees Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program conducted interviews and drug tests with more than 30,000 recent arrestees in 35 metropolitan areas. A total of 20,716 adult males, 6,700 adult females, 3,134 juvenile males, and 389 juvenile females participated in the program during 1998. Twelve of the 35 sites (Albuquerque, Anchorage, Des Moines, Laredo, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Spokane, and Tucson) were added during 1998.

In most sites, about two-thirds of the adult arrestees and more than half of the juvenile arrestees tested positive for at least one drug. Among adult males, marijuana was the drug most frequently detected in 23 of the 35 sites. Cocaine was the drug most likely to be detected in the remaining 12 sites. Among females, cocaine was the drug most frequently detected in 29 of 32 sites. Methamphetamine was the most frequently detected drug in the three remaining sites for females.

Juveniles

Drug test positive rates for juveniles were essentially stable in 1998 compared to 1997 across all sites.

Juvenile arrestees that are in school are less likely to test positive for drugs than juveniles not in school. This is particularly the case for the harder drugs of cocaine and methamphetamine, although it also holds for marijuana. In Los Angeles, for example, 23% of the boys not currently attending school tested positive for cocaine, compared to 13% of the boys currently attending school; nearly 10% of the boys not in school tested positive for methamphetamine, compared to 3% of the boys in school.

In 1998 among juveniles, marijuana was far and away the most frequently detected drug in sites collecting juvenile data. Ranging from a low of 47% in Indianapolis to a high of 64% in Phoenix, on average more than half of the juvenile males tested positive for marijuana. By contrast, anywhere from 4% (Portland) to 15% (Los Angeles) tested positive for cocaine.

Marijuana

In 1998 the percentage of adult male respondents testing positive for marijuana use in the ADAM program ranged from a high of 53.1 percent in Oklahoma City to a low of 24.8 percent in San Jose. For the 32 sites that collected data on female arrestees during 1998, the proportion of arrestees testing positive for marijuana ranged from 37.9 percent in Seattle to 13.3 percent in Laredo. Within any given site, men were generally more likely than women to test positive for marijuana in 1998. In addition, young adults (15-20 and 21-25 years of age), whether male or female, were the most likely to be involved with marijuana.

A comparison between 1997 and 1998 results in the 23 sites for which trend data are available indicates that marijuana-positive percentages varied across sites.

  • Among all adult male arrestees, the median site rate of marijuana positives changed minimally, from 38.4 percent to 38.7 percent between 1997 and 1998.
  • For females, the site median remained essentially the same in 1997 (23.8) and 1998 (23.7).
  • The most notable percentage point decreases for marijuana positives among adult males were in Atlanta (-10.1), Cleveland (-9.4), Chicago (-6.9), and Omaha (-5.6). For females, the greatest percentage point decreases were in Birmingham (-7.8), Detroit (-6.9), and Omaha (-5.1).
  • The largest percentage point increases for males were in Houston (+12.2), San Antonio (+6.8), and New York City (+6.3). For females, the largest percentage point increases in marijuana positives were in New Orleans (+10.5) and Washington, D.C. (+9.2).

    Source: 1998 Annual Report on Marijuana Use Among Arrestee, Arrestees Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM), under the National Institute of Justice, 1998, NCJ 175658, April 1999.


Cocaine

In 1998, the percentage of adult male respondents who tested positive for recent (past 72 hours) cocaine use in the ADAM program ranged from a high of 51.3 percent in Atlanta to a low of 8.0 percent in San Jose. For the 32 sites that collected data on female arrestees during 1998, cocaine-positive rates ranged from 67.0 percent in New York City to 9.5 percent in San Jose. Generally, older adults (31 and older), whether male or female, are the most likely to use cocaine. Among male cocaine users, recent crack use is self-reported almost twice as frequently as recent powder use. Among female cocaine users, crack use is typically self-reported more than four times as frequently as powder cocaine use.

A comparison between 1997 and 1998 results in the 23 sites for which trend data are available indicates that cocaine-positive percentages declined in the majority of sites.

  • Among all adult male arrestees, the median site rate of cocaine positives decreased from 37.1 percent in 1997 and to 35.8 percent in 1998.
  • For females, the site median decreased 4.5 percentage points, from 45.0 percent in 1997 to 40.5 percent in 1998.
  • The most notable percentage point decreases for cocaine-positives among adult males were witnessed in New York City (10.5), Portland (7.9), and St. Louis (5.9); and for females, the greatest decreases were in St. Louis (9.1), Portland (8.4), and San Jose (6.0).
  • The largest percentage point increases for males were in Philadelphia (10.4), Cleveland (10.1), and Detroit (5.7). For females, the largest percentage point increases in cocaine-positives were in Omaha (18.4), Houston (7.9), and Birmingham (7.6).

 Source: 1998 Annual Report on Cocaine Use Among Arrestees, Arrestees Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM), under the National Institute of Justice, 1998, NCJ 175657, April 1999.

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Prior drug use by offenders

Probationers | Jail inmates | State and Federal prison inmates

Probationers

In 1995 the first national survey of adults on probation reported --

  • nearly 70% of probationers reported past drug use
  • 32% said they were using illegal drugs in the month before their offense.
Marijuana (10%) was the most commonly used drug among probationers at the time of the offense.

Prior drug use of adults on probation at the time of offense, by type of drugs, 1995

Type of drug
Percent of adults on probation who were under the influence of drugs at the time of offense

  Any drug 14

%

Marijuana/hashish 10

Cocaine/crack 4

Heroin and other opiates 1

Barbiturates 1

Stimulants 2

Hallucinogens 1


Note: Excludes 11,712 probationers for whom information on drug use was not provided.


Source: BJS, Substance Abuse and Treatment of Adults on Probation, 1995, NCJ 166611, March 1998.


In 1995 adults on probation in the age categories under 45 (87% of all probationers) reported similar levels of prior drug abuse, and their incidence of drug use was consistently higher than that of older probationers. Over 70% of probationers under 45 reported some prior drug use, compared to 37% of those 45 or older. Thirty-five percent of probationers under 45 -- but 9% of older probationers -- reported drug use in the month before their offense.

Source: BJS, Substance Abuse and Treatment of Adults on Probation, 1995, NCJ 166611, March 1998.

Two-thirds of DWI offenders on probation reported using drugs in the past. Among DWI probationers, marijuana (65%) and stimulants (29%) were the most commonly used drugs. Seventeen percent of those on probation reported drug use in the month prior to arrest.

Prior drug use reported by probationers
         
  Percent of probationers

Level of prior drug use
DWI
offenders
Other
offenders
Ever used drugs/a 67.9

%

69.9

%

Marijuana/hashish 64.6   67.2  
Cocaine/crack 28.1   31.7  
Heroin/opiates 5.7   8.8  
Depressants/b 14.6   15.6  
Stimulants/c 28.5   24.4  
Hallucinogens/d 19.9   19.6  
         
Ever used drugs regularly/e 55.6

%

64.2

%

         
Used drugs in month before arrest 16.6

%

35.7

%

         
Used drugs at time of arrest 3.3

%

16.1

%

         
a/ Other unspecified drugs are included in the totals.
b/ Includes barbiturates, tranquilizers, and Quaalude.
c/ Includes amphetamine and methamphetamine.
d/ Includes LSD and PCP.
e/ Used drugs at least once a week for at least
a month.
Source: BJS, DWI Offenders under Correctional Supervision, NCJ 172212, June 1999.

Among DWI offenders, the most commonly reported experience associated with drug use was domestic disputes:

  • 19% of probationers said they had arguments with their family, friends, spouse, or boyfriend/girlfriend while under the influence of drugs.
  • About 1 in 10 of those on probation for DWI had been arrested or held in a police station as a result of their drug use.
  • 3% on probation had lost a job because of their drug use.
  • 8% of those on probation said they had been in a physical fight while under the influence of drugs.

    Source: BJS, DWI Offenders under Correctional Supervision, NCJ 172212, June 1999.

Nearly 40% of mentally ill probationers and 30% of other probationers reported using drugs in the month before their offense.

Source: BJS, Mental Health and Treatment and Inmates and Probationers, NCJ 174463, July 1999.

Jail inmates

Of those inmates held in local jails, only convicted offenders were asked if they had used drugs in the time leading up to their current offense. In 1996, 55% of convicted jail inmates reported they had used illegal drugs during the month before their offense, up from 44% in 1989. Use of marijuana in the month before the offense increased from 28% to 37% and of stimulants from 5% to 10%. Reported cocaine or crack use was stable at about 24%.

Half of inmates in both 1989 and 1996 reported trying cocaine. Overall, 82% of all jail inmates in 1996 said they had ever used an illegal drug, up from 78% in 1989. A higher percentage of jail inmates in 1996 than in 1989 reported ever using for every other type of drug:.

  • marijuana rose from 71% to 78%;
  • stimulants (amphetamine and methamphetamine) from 22% to 34%;
  • hallucinogens, including LSD and PCP, from 24% to 32%;
  • depressants, including Quaalude, barbiturates, and tranquilizers without a doctor's prescription, from 21% to 30%; and
  • heroin or other opiates from 19% to 24%.

    Source: BJS, Profile of Jail Inmates, 1996, NCJ 164620, April 1998.

Prior drug use of jail inmates, by type of drug, 1996 and 1989

Ever used drugs
Ever used drugs regularly/a
Used drugs in the month before the offense
Used drugs at the time of the offense




Type of drug
1996
 
1989
1996 1989 1996 1989 1996 1989


 
 
 
  Any drug/b 82.4 % 77.7 %   64.2 % 58.0 %   55.0 % 43.8 %   35.6 % 27.0 %
Marijuana 78.2 70.7   54.9 47.8   36.8 28.0   18.5 9.0
Cocaine or crack 50.4 50.4   31.0 30.7   24.1 23.5   15.2 13.7
Heroin or opiates 23.9 18.6   11.8 11.8   8.8 7.2   5.6 4.9
Depressants/c 29.9 21.1   10.4 9.0   5.9 3.9   2.4 1.2
Stimulants/d 33.6 22.1   16.5 12.1   10.4 5.4   6.1 2.2
Hallucinogens/e 32.2 23.7   10.5 9.4   4.6 3.2   1.6 1.6
Inhalants 16.8 --   4.8 --   1.0 --   0.3 --
 
Note: Detail add to more than total because inmates may have used more than one drug.
--Not reported.

a/ Used drugs at least once week for a month.
b/ Other unspecified drugs are included in the totals.
c/ Includes barbiturates, tranquilizers, and Quaalude.
d/ Includes amphetamine and methamphetamine.
e/ Includes LSD and PCP.
Source: BJS, Profile of Jail Inmates, 1996, NCJ 164620, April 1998.

Over three-quarters of DWI offenders in jail reported using drugs in the past. Among jail inmates held for DWI , marijuana (73%) and cocaine-based drugs including crack (41%) were the most commonly used drugs. Thirty percent of those in jail reported drug use in the month prior to arrest.

Prior drug use reported by jail inmates
         
 
Percent of jail inmates
Level of prior drug use DWI offenders Other offenders
Ever used drugs/a 76.5 % 83.2 %
Marijuana/hashish 72.7   78.9  
Cocaine/crack 40.6   51.4  
Heroin/opiates 18.9   24.5  
Depressants/b 27.6   30.2  
Stimulants/c 35.5   33.7  
Hallucinogens/d 33.2   32.2  
         
Ever used drugs regularly/e 47.6 % 65.9 %
         
Used drugs in month before arrest 30.2 % 51.2 %
         
Used drugs at time of arrest 9.5 % 34.1 %
         
a/ Other unspecified drugs are included in the totals.
b/ Includes barbiturates, tranquilizers, and Quaalude.
c/ Includes amphetamine and methamphetamine.
d/ Includes LSD and PCP.
e/ Used drugs at least once a week for at least a month.
Source: BJS, DWI Offenders under Correctional Supervision, NCJ 172212, June 1999.

Domestic disputes were also one of the most commonly reported experiences associated with drug use:

  • 25% of jail inmates said they had arguments with their family, friends, spouse, or boyfriend/girlfriend while under the influence of drugs.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 of those in jail for DWI had been arrested or held in a police station as a result of their drug use.
  • About 10% of DWI offenders in jail had lost a job because of their drug use.
  • About 15% of those in jail said they had been in a physical fight while under the influence of drugs.

    Source: BJS, DWI Offenders under Correctional Supervision,
    NCJ 172212, June 1999.

Fifty-eight percent of mentally ill jail inmates and 47% of other jail inmates were using drugs in the month before the offense.

Source: BJS, Mental Health and Treatment and Inmates and Probationers, NCJ 174463, July 1999.

State and Federal prison inmates

In the 1997 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities, over 570,000 of the Nation's prisoners (51%) reported the use of alcohol or drugs while committing their offense.

In 1991, 60% of Federal prisoners reported prior drug use, compared to 79% of State prisoners. In 1997 this gap in prior drug use was narrowed, as the percentage of Federal inmates reporting past drug use rose to 73%, compared to 83% of State inmates. This increase was mostly due to a rise in the percentage of Federal prisoners reporting prior use of marijuana (from 53% in 1991 to 65% in 1997) and cocaine-based drugs (from 37% in 1991 to 45% in 1997).

Most other drug types showed modest increases over this period. A fifth of Federal prisoners had used stimulants and hallucinogens, followed by depressants and opiates, including heroin (both 16%). About 1 in 12 Federal prisoners reported the prior use of inhalants.

Although the proportion of Federal prisoners held for drug offenses rose from 58% in 1991 to 63% in 1997, the percentage of all Federal inmates who reported using drugs in the month before the offense rose more dramatically from 32% to 45%.

The proportion of State prison inmates reporting the past use of cocaine or crack remained stable between 1991 and 1997 --

  • Marijuana (77%) use had increased slightly since 1991 (74%), and remained the most commonly used drug.
  • Past use of cocaine-based drugs remained unchanged at 49% since 1991.
  • Twenty percent of all inmates reported the past use of intravenous drugs, down from 25% in 1991.
Drug use by State prisoners, 1997 and 1991
   
Percent of inmates who had ever used drugs
   
Type of drug 1997
1991

  Any drug 83 % 79
%
Marijuana 77 74
Cocaine/crack 49 49
Heroin/opiates 24 25
Depressants 24 24
Stimulants 28 30
Hallucinogens 29 27

Source: BJS, Substance Abuse and Treatment, State and Federal Prisoners, 1997, NCJ 172871, January 1999.

Nineteen percent of State inmates told interviewers that they had been physically or sexually abused before their current offense. For State prisoners reporting prior abuse, 89% had ever used illegal drugs: 76% of the men and 80% of the women had used them regularly. Of those not reporting prior abuse, 82% had used illegal drugs: 68% of the men and 65% of the women had used them regularly.

Illegal drug use was more common among abused State prison inmates than among those who said they were not abused. An estimated 76% of abused men and 80% of abused women had used illegal drugs regularly, compared to 68% of men and 65% of women who had not been abused.

Current and past violent offenses and past drug use,
by whether abused before admission to State prison, 1997
 
  Percent of State prison inmates
Offense history and Reported being abused Reported being not abused
drug use Total Males Females Total Males Females
 
Current or past
violent offense
70.4 % 76.5 % 45.0 % 60.2 % 61.2 % 29.1 %
 
Used an illegal drug  
Ever 88.6 % 88.5 % 88.9 % 81.8 % 81.9 % 77.4 %
Ever regularly 76.3   75.5   79.7   67.9   67.9   65.0  
In month before offense 61.4   59.7   68.6   55.3   55.3   54.0  
At time of offense 39.6   38.0   46.2   30.7   30.7   32.0  
 
Source: BJS, Prior Abuse Reported by Inmates and Probationers, NCJ 172879, April 1999.

Source: BJS, Prior Abuse Reported by Inmates and Probationers, NCJ 172879, April 1999.

About 60% of mentally ill State prisoners and 56% of other inmates were using drugs in the month before their offense.

Source: BJS, Mental Health and Treatment and Inmates and Probationers, NCJ 174463, July 1999.