New York University researchers recently studied the correlation between drug sales, drug abuse and the perception of drug use in the community. Though all of these factors have been studied separately, previous research has usually only studied drug use’s effect on individuals or family members, not an entire neighborhood.
Taking a closer look at an annual survey
The study used data from the annual survey Monitoring the Future, which queries adolescents on the behaviors, attitudes and values of secondary school students. Approximately 15,000 high school seniors from 130 schools nationwide are surveyed each year. This study used answers from 10,050 seniors who had completely answered the questions about neighborhood drug sales and peer disapproval.
“In addition to exploring the possibility of an association between neighborhood drug sales and drug use, we also sought to determine if there was a relationship between the perceived frequency of neighborhood drug sales and peer disapproval, which has been found to be a robust protective factor against drug use,” Dustin T. Duncan, M.D., said in a statement.
The survey’s telling data of drug use
The study authors found a strong correlation between the anticipated number of drug sales and drug use, consistent witnessing of drug sales, a greater likelihood of drug use and the desire for larger amounts of “harder” drugs.
The researchers noted that teens who stated seeing drug sales frequently were 11 times more likely to use more than one illicit drug over a 30-day period. People who did not witness drug deals had a much lower chance of frequent drug use.
The power of visual influence
The study also revealed that neighborhoods with higher sales of illicit drugs had a lower rate of peer disapproval for cocaine and marijuana. So, if a person witnessed drug sales frequently, he or she most likely has friends who approve of marijuana and cocaine use.
The researchers believe that marijuana and cocaine use may have become normalized to people who witness drug sales often. They noted that the correlation between witnessing drug sales and drug perception largely influences teen drug use.
A double-edged sword
However, the researchers noted that there are negatives on both sides.
“We don’t want young people to approve of illicit drug use because they see drugs being sold in their neighborhoods, but at the same time we don’t want such strong disapproval or stigma that their peers experiencing drugs problems cannot talk to them when they need help,” researcher Joseph Palamar, M.D., said in a statement.
The study authors believe that if drug sales go down, hopefully peer approval and drug use rates will too.
Changing policies to benefit the neighborhood
The researchers noted that their findings suggest policy changes, even if they are just on the neighborhood level. They believe that drug-related crime can be reduced by a few simple strategies aimed at changing the social and physical neighborhood dynamic.
They hope that these findings will cause law enforcement and policy makers to take action. Simple adjustments such as installing surveillance cameras can lower drug sales. The study authors noted the rise and recent perception change for marijuana. They stated that even if the drug becomes decriminalized nationwide, sales would still need to be regulated.
Getting drugs off the streets effectively
In the past few years, law enforcement has worked tirelessly to get drugs off the streets. The Drug Enforcement Agency stated that 30,688 drug-related arrests were made in 2013. The most popular drug seized nationally was marijuana, followed by hallucinogens and then cocaine. Despite the rampant opiate crisis nationwide, the drug was seized the least, with officers only pulling about 965 kilograms off the streets.