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Why focus on drugs…?

There is a well-established, but complex relationship between illicit drug use and crime. This relationship differs between individuals and even for the same individual over time. For some, committing crime preceded drug use and for others drug use preceded criminality. Not everyone with a treatment need commits drug related crime, for instance roughly half of treatment clients do not.

Problematic drug users are much more likely to be found within the criminal justice system (CJS) than within the wider population. There is also strong evidence that problematic use of some drugs, notably heroin and crack, can amplify offending behaviour and there is a particularly strong association with acquisitive crime, such as shoplifting and burglary.

However, for most offenders who use drugs, whose drug use is less extensive, there is no direct causal link between drugs and crime. For example, most are not committing crimes to pay for their drugs.

Problematic drug-using offenders have particularly high rates of offending, but they also have high rates of a range of other problems, such as homelessness, unemployment, low educational attainment and disrupted family background, which make the relationship between drugs and crime more complex and the task of rehabilitation more challenging.

The stats

  • At least 1 in 8 arrestees (equivalent to about 125,000 people in England and Wales) are estimated to be problem heroin and/or crack users, compared with about 1 in 100 of the general population.
  • 81% of arrestees who used heroin and/or crack at least once a week said they committed an acquisitive crime in the previous 12 months, compared with 30% of other arrestees.
  • 31% reported an average of at least one crime a day, compared with 3% of other arrestees.
  • Between a third and a half of new receptions to prison are estimated to be problem drug users (equivalent to between 45,000 and 65,000 prisoners in England and Wales).
  • Drug-related crime costs an estimated £13.5 billion in England and Wales alone.


Drug addicted people often develop a tolerance through daily compulsive use, which can result in an expensive addiction. For instance, the estimated average value of drugs used in the four weeks prior to treatment among participants of the Drug Treatment Outcomes Research Study (DTORS) was £12,969. With little income they may resort to crime to pay for their drug use, such as shoplifting, burglary or robbery, or other crimes such as soliciting and begging.

It is estimated that drug treatment and recovery systems in England may have prevented approximately 4.9m crimes in 2010-11, with an estimated saving to society of £960m in costs to the public, businesses, the criminal justice system and National Health Service (NHS).

The future effect of drug treatment in reducing crime and reoffending rates

It is estimated that up to 4.1m offences may be prevented over a nine-year period (from 2011-12 to 2019-2020). This is due to the prediction that 13,702 people who left treatment in 2010-11 will go on to sustain long term recovery with an estimated value of £700m.

It is estimated that continued investment in drug treatment at current levels could lead up to an estimated 54,000 former clients sustaining long term recovery which may prevent up to 16.6m more offences over a nine year period with an estimated value of up to £2.6bn by 2023-24.

If you would like to find out where and how to access drug treatment services in your local area, please use the search functions at the side of this page.

Alternatively, if you are a drug treatment organisation based in the West Midlands who would like to be a member of this site, please contact us.