A new study from the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, BC, finds that the costs of crime stemming from the use of stimulant drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines are “substantial,” amounting to between $5,500 to almost $8,900 per month for each stimulant user.
If that sounds high, it is. In fact, it’s a whopping $66,000 to $106,800 per person annually. The researchers say that aside from the societal and health benefits that would come from addiction intervention and treatment for those using stimulants drugs, the monetary savings would be significant.
After opioid use, stimulants like cocaine (including crack cocaine) and amphetamines such as methamphetamine represent the second-most commonly used illicit drug, both in Canada and worldwide.
And while there are many facets to the relationship between stimulant use and criminal activity, the evidence is clear that methamphetamine use, for example, comes with an increased risk of psychotic episodes and aggressive behaviour, along with a reduction in impulse control for all stimulants, more so than for opiates.
In total, studies have shown that amphetamine use comes with 1.9 times greater risk of offending in comparison to non-users, a rate which rises to six times greater risk for crack cocaine users.
“Criminal activity is one of the largest components of the total societal costs attributable to illicit drug use in Canada and around the world,” say the study’s authors. “It is estimated that the direct costs (e.g., healthcare, law enforcement) of illicit drug use were as high as $3.57 billion in Canada in 2002.”
Researchers used a prospective cohort study to survey 1599 street-involved youth in Vancouver between the ages of 14 and 26 who report use of drugs other than, or in addition to, cannabis. The youth were questioned on the type and frequency of any criminal acts committed in the past 30 days, with researchers categorizing that activity into groups such as violent offences like assault and weapons offences, property crime offences, sex work and drug dealing itself. The costs of the various crimes were calculated by adding up expenses for the various elements such as police response, arrest processing and court costs, together with victimization costs such as medical expenses and cash losses stemming from violent offences.
The results showed crime costs of $5449 per month associated with non-daily use of more than one kind of stimulant, $5723 per month for non-daily methamphetamine use, $5845 for daily methamphetamine use, $5864 for powdered cocaine use and $8,893 for polystimulant use.
While the averaged costs are themselves an eye-opener, the researchers found that, in fact, 79 per cent of street youth surveyed, all drug users, did not report any criminal activity, and in a follow-up interview, 60 per cent continued to report having been involved in no crimes.
“This illustrates what is typically the case; that criminal activity is a relatively rare event, and crime costs are characterized by a small number of events and individuals having a substantial influence on the total costs,” say the researchers, whose work is published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.