People with serious drug and alcohol abuse problems are linked to about a quarter of all violent crimes but much of the violence could be avoided with better treatment, scientists said Friday.
They found that 16 percent of crimes such as murder, robbery, assault and rape in Sweden between 1988-2000 were committed by people who had been discharged from hospitals for alcohol misuse and 10 percent were associated with drug abusers.
“It is likely you will find the same sort of figures in Western Europe and North America,” Seena Fazel, of the University of Oxford, said in an interview.
Treatment could reduce crime
Fazel and Martin Grann, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, studied the country’s national crime register and compared it with hospital discharges of people diagnosed with alcohol and drug misuse and psychoses.
Few countries, apart from Scandinavian nations, have such detailed population-based registers which are needed to conduct such a study.
In addition to alcohol, abuse of amphetamines and opiates such as heroin, and use of multiple drugs were linked to the most violent crimes.
“There needs to be more integration between the criminal justice system and mental health services because of this close association between crime and people who leave hospital with drug and alcohol problems,” said Fazel, who reported his findings in the British Medical Journal.
“Using resources to treat people with these problems could be cost-effective in terms of crime reduction,” he added.
In Britain alone, drug related crimes cost the criminal justice system about $1.8 billion annually.
Fazel suggested that opportunities for treatment should be considered if a person with a history of alcohol or drug abuse has been convicted of committing a violent crime.
“Probation officers and mental health professionals should continue to work more closely,” he added.