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New Study Reveals Scope of Drug and Crime Connection

Majority of Arresttees Test Positive for Drugs


The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released a May 2009 report, which surveys drug use among booked male arrestees in 10 major metropolitan areas across the country.

The report shows the majority of arrestees in each city test positive for illicit drug use, with as many as 87 percent of arrestees testing positive for an illegal drug.

Up To 87 Percent Arrested Found Using Drugs

According to the report, drug use among the arrestee population is much higher than in the general U.S. population. The percentage of booked arrestees testing positive for at least one illicit drug ranged from 49 percent in Washington, D.C. to 87 percent in Chicago.

The most common substances present during tests, in descending order, are marijuana, cocaine, opiates, and methamphetamine. Additionally, many arrestees tested positive for more than one illegal drug at the time of arrest- from 15 percent in Atlanta to 40 percent in Chicago.

Data on drug use, drug markets, treatment utilization, and criminal offenses were collected among booked arrestees in jails within 48 hours of their booking and in the following counties and cities:

  • Fulton County and City of Atlanta
  • Mecklenburg County (Charlotte, NC)
  • Cook County (Chicago, IL)
  • Denver County (Denver, CO)
  • Marion County (Indianapolis, IN)
  • Hennepin County (Minneapolis, MN)
  • Manhattan (New York, NY)
  • Multnomah County (Portland, OR)
  • Sacramento County (Sacramento, CA)
  • Washington, D.C. (District of Columbia).
Other key findings from the report:


Marijuana is the most commonly detected drug at the time of arrest. The percentage of arrestees testing positive for marijuana ranges from just under a third in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. to about half in Charlotte.

Additionally, arrestees who are using marijuana use it frequently: in seven of the cities, marijuana users used the drug on average every other day during the past month.


The proportion of arrestees testing positive for cocaine ranges from a low of 17 percent in Sacramento to 41 percent in Chicago. The use of cocaine powder reported by arrestees remains stable or in decline in all 10 cities, with a significant reduction in Indianapolis and Washington, DC.

Additionally, the proportion of those arrested who report acquiring powder cocaine in the past month is either stable or decreasing in all 10 cities surveyed in 2008.


Heroin appears to be relatively more available in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Portland, where one quarter or fewer of those who bought heroin reported a failed attempt to buy the drug.

By contrast, in New York, 53 percent of those obtaining heroin reported a failed buy and 46 percent of them attribute it to lack of available product.

Additionally, self-report data on recent use shows a consistently high frequency of use among arrestees who use heroin. In seven of the 10 cities observed, arrestees who admit heroin use report that they use the drug 15 or more days out of the month - in Chicago, heroin users are reporting almost daily use.


Meth remains primarily a regional phenomenon. Less than one percent of arrestees in the eastern United States tested positive. However, in Sacramento and Portland, 35 and 15 percent of arrestees, respectively, test positive.

Treatment Programs vs. Prison

The findings from this report fuel the debate regarding the expansion of programs that work to divert non-violent offenders into drug treatment programs instead of prison.

According to ADAM II, more than half of arrestees in all sites, and over 80 percent of arrestees in eight of the sites, have at least one prior arrest.

Additionally, of those arrestees reporting drug use in the past year, more than one in ten were arrested two or more times during the same period in eight of the sites measured.

The ADAM II program is a data collection program sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

Source: ONDCP Public Affairs

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