Methadone clinics don’t cause a spike in crime

"Drug treatment centers aren't going to make your neighborhood any less safe," researcher Debra Furr-Holden says, "and neighborhoods could actually become even safer if you actually can treat people with addiction." (Credit: iStockphoto)

Contrary to conventional wisdom, methadone clinics and other addiction treatment centers may actually attract less serious crime into their neighborhoods than some retail stores do.

Researchers analyzed 2011 violent crime statistics in Baltimore and found that areas around 53 liquor stores and corner stores saw significantly more homicides, rapes, aggravated assaults, and robberies per business than the areas around 53 comparably located drug treatment centers.

“They have gotten a reputation as magnets for crime, but the data just don’t support that.”

The findings rebut the argument that the coming and going of drug addicts receiving methadone and other treatment brings more of a dangerous element to an area, researchers say. Methadone is used to ease withdrawal symptoms in addicts attempting to quit heroin or other narcotics.

“Our findings show that drug treatment centers pose no additional risk of violence above and beyond any traditional business in the community,” says study leader C. Debra M. Furr-Holden, associate professor of mental health at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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“They have gotten a reputation as magnets for crime,” she says, “but the data just don’t support that. By contrast, communities often solicit other types of businesses to locate in their neighborhoods, even though they appear to have a more profound effect on attracting crime.”

The study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, involved mapping businesses and publicly funded clinics in Baltimore and violent crime near those locations. Researchers also looked at the socioeconomic status of the area surrounding each. They considered liquor stores, corner stores (small mom-and-pop type stores very common in Baltimore), and convenience stores (larger, more corporate establishments).

The findings show that 25 percent more violent crime occurs around liquor stores and corner stores as compared with drug treatment centers. Crime around convenience stores was comparable to crime around the treatment centers.

The analysis excluded crimes that actually occurred in the individual establishments, although liquor, corner, and convenience stores are known to be robbed more often than drug treatment centers.

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It has been a struggle to open drug treatment centers in areas of Baltimore with the largest unmet need for addiction services, largely because of a “not-in-my-backyard” mentality in the community. Drug addicts are stigmatized by those who consider them criminals who bring troubles on themselves, she says, when addiction is actually a medical condition requiring treatment.

“There’s a lot of bias and bigotry against people with addiction problems,” says study coauthor Adam J. Milam, associate in the Bloomberg School’s mental health department. “Addiction is preventable and it’s treatable. We need to provide treatment centers in the communities where people addicted to drugs live, not say treatment centers aren’t welcome here.”

“If people don’t want these services in their neighborhoods, we need to have an open, honest dialogue about why, given that their concerns about violent crime aren’t founded,” Furr-Holden says.

“If you’re unwilling to allow drug treatment centers to locate in places where we have needs, what is the solution? Drug treatment centers aren’t going to make your neighborhood any less safe and neighborhoods could actually become even safer if you actually can treat people with addiction.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Minority Health, and Health Disparities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Source: Johns Hopkins University