Evidence, Drugs and Crime

I have seen emails from Philippine scientists in the US asking whether our community of scholars should say something as a group regarding the current war on drugs waged by the Duterte administration. In a country where most people shoot straight from the hip without any regard for what research says, opinions from academic scientists who have practiced in their own disciplines respect for data may be welcomed or may be not. As discussed in this blog so many times, research based evidence does not seem to guide basic education policies in the Philippines. Therefore, it is unlikely that a similar effort on drug policies will make a difference unless a unified voice from the community is made. Nonetheless, this blog will try. And as always, the first step is to destroy myths. For starters, alcohol is the most harmful drug to both users and society (at least, according to researchers in the UK):

Above copied from The Lancet
Second, the association between violent crimes and drug use is indeed true, but not for all drugs. The strong correlation between crime and drug use is especially true for alcohol and as Stephen Koppel states in an article published in the Journal of Civil and Legal Sciences, "the relationship between marijuana and violent crime is primarily negative and relatively strong. Also, the relationship between heroin and violent crime is weak and inconsistent." (Koppel JDS (2016) Evidence-based Drug Crime Policy: Looking beyond the Moral and Medical to a Multi-level Model of Addiction. J Civil Legal Sci 5: 175. doi:10.4172/2169-0170.1000175)

Third, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have enumerated the following unintended consequences of drug policies similar to those employed by the Duterte administration:

  • Black market: the creation of a lucrative and violent criminal black market for drugs of macroeconomic proportions.
  • Policy displacement from health to law enforcement, drawing public resources and political attention away from public health considerations towards law enforcement and security.
  • Geographical displacement as crackdowns on drug productionand trade push them, and with them, crime, violence, and destabilization, to new geographic areas.
  • Substance displacement: the unwitting creation of incentives for users to switch from heavily policed drugs to a drug with similar effects with less stringent controls, creating new patterns of drug use and markets.
  • Criminalization and marginalization of people who use drugs, often amplified through the use of the criminal justice system to address drug use and minor possession. Drug-related incarceration rates are, in many countries, highest amongst young, poor, marginalized populations, often having lifelong –or even, in some cases, multi-generational – consequences on human and social development.
The last one in the above list maybe the easiest to realize. We must simply ask ourselves the following questions: Who are being killed on the streets without trial? Who are being incarcerated? The war on drugs is oftentimes a war only against the poor, only against the oppressed, only against the defenseless.