Are arrest statistics a valid measure of illicit drug use? The relationship between criminal justice and public health indicators of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana use

Richard Rosenfeld, Scott H. Decker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

40 Scopus citations

Abstract

Several alternative indicators are currently available to researchers, policy makers, and practitioners for gauging levels and patterns of illicit drug use within and across communities. Yet there exists little information that allows reliable comparisons across indicators to determine whether they tell essentially the same story about variation in the prevalence of drug use. In particular, it remains unclear how closely arrest statistics, the leading law enforcement indicator of illicit drug use, correspond to other law enforcement indicators, such as urine tests of jail inmates, or to public health measures, such as emergency departments’ and medical examiners’ reports. In this paper we assess the relationships between alternative law enforcement and public health indicators of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana use for a sample of large U.S. cities. We find pronounced convergence across measurement systems in cocaine and heroin use, but little convergence for marijuana use. In addition to other research and policy implications, these results increase confidence in the use of arrest data to assess variation across urban areas in cocaine and heroin use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)685-699
Number of pages15
JournalJustice Quarterly
Volume16
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law

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