NYC Drug Arrests Down / Drug Overdoses Up
Drug arrests have declined in nearly every American town, borough, burg or city. In fact, they’ve been declining for the past two-to-three years. Unfortunately there hasn’t been a commensurate decline in drug overdoses. If anything, the degree in which ODs have risen is even larger than the arrest reduction percentage.
That’s especially true in NYC. After crunching numbers from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, New York Post reporters Kathianne Boniello, Matthew Sedacca and Melissa Klein found busts for all felony drug sales in the five NYC boroughs fell 28% between 2019 and 2021. Convictions fell even further, by an uncomfortable 52%.
In contrast, the first two quarters of 2021 saw 1,233 overdose deaths, compared to 965 overdose deaths during the same period in 2020. And while those latest NYC Department of Health numbers have found that rise to measure out at 28% (vs over 66% from last year’s increase), it’s still 78% greater than the same period in 2019.
So what’s the disconnect?
Drug Arrests vs Drug Overdoses in NYC
New York City is of course America’s largest metropolis. As such, it’s also long been the country’s largest drug market. And while the city may not be a perfect barometer for drug activity across the entire country – after all, some of New York’s boroughs are larger than most American cities – what happens there often represents what’s to come elsewhere. That’s especially so regarding enforcement and prevention, which makes discovering the disconnect between lower arrests and higher deaths all the more important.
Since drug overdoses are up, it would be hard to imagine that drug arrests were down because of less drug-taking. Then again, why not? Fentanyl kills at a rate far greater than heroin, morphine or prescription pain pills (that is, legitimate prescription pain pills), so it’s obviously possible to attribute a lower arrest rate to a lower abuse rate.
Nevertheless, as stated, NYC’s overdose deaths are up by an extreme amount. And that can’t possibly coincide with any significant drop in abuse. The only way to get a full bead on the problem though is to have reliable abuse numbers to go along with the overdoses and arrests.
Unfortunately NYC numbers don’t appear to exist. Not within any manageable search criteria anyway. In fact, city-by-city numbers don’t appear to exist either. SAMHSA does though provide state-by-state stats. So do the solidly reliable folks at WalletHub. And New York State provides drug abuse numbers of its own as well.
NY State Drug Use
This isn’t the time or the place to dive into the entire state-by-state rundown. We will though tell you that SAMHSA’s 2019/2020 numbers found the South had a tad more drug users than the West (10,978 vs 10,418). We’ll also tell you that WalletHub discovered West Virginia to have the highest drug use of any state. Though to be fair, the Washington DC was just over one percentage point from the top spot. (New York State was #28.)
As for the Empire State itself, well, back in 2010, the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) estimated that approximately twelve percent of its residents age 12 and older were experiencing a substance use disorder. That adds up to over 1.9 million New Yorkers (1.77 million adults and 156,000 youth ages 12-17) across 62 counties and approximately 1383 cities, towns and hamlets.
Considering current estimates place national substance use disorder numbers somewhere between 20 and 33 million, New York claims a significant piece of this unhealthy pie.
What’s to Blame?
Okay, so drug abuse is at least static, if not downright up. And drug overdoses have unequivocally risen. So should people be alarmed by New York City’s reduction in drug arrests?
Actually many folks see the decline as a positive sign. Some claim the reduction means there are less drugs on the streets. (That would of course be because there are less drug addicts.) Others say the reduction in drug arrests is simply part of a more enlightened policy that includes not prosecuting – or persecuting – low level drug offenders. And while most folks are behind efforts such as the decriminalization of marijuana and probation for low level possession, the elimination of cash bail isn’t quite so popular. In fact, some insist that the elimination of cash bail has taken much of the eagerness for police to make drug arrests. After all, why arrest someone who’ll only be out on the street in a couple hours anyway?
Then there are those who still insist that there’s a staff shortage across all U.S. police departments, including New York City. And until that deficit is remedied any arrest increase would be impossible.
Let’s not forget of course that the pandemic all but shut down the court system.
“We are still facing a backlog” in court, said Kati Cornell, spokeswoman for Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan, whose office handles larger drug cases.
Could There Really Be Less Drug Abuse?
Could the lower drug arrest rate really mean a reduction in drug abuse itself? It’s a tempting question to ask. It’s an even more tempting question to answer in the affirmative. The problem is an affirmative answer might not only be premature – it may just be downright erroneous. Especially when one considers the overdose rates.
As for drug arrests, well, there should be less arrests for simple possession and more options for treatment. As it stands, both numbers remain about stagnant, regardless of who’s doing the telling. And with nearly two million SUD sufferers in NY State alone, stagnation is no longer an option. Everyone now well knows that we can’t arrest our way our of the addiction problem. And we certainly can’t arrest our way out of overdoses (though hard time for fentanyl seller certainly remains popular). So let’s please focus on diversion programs, if not prevention as well.
Researchers from the Pew Charitable Trusts found no relationship between state drug imprisonment rates and drug use or drug overdose deaths. They also found that from 2009 to 2019, past-year illicit drug use among Americans 12 or older increased from 15% to nearly 21% and the overdose death rate more than tripled. That’s unacceptable. Considering those numbers have increased exponentially even since those numbers were evaluated in February, it’s also obscene.
Healing Properties supports smarter, more compassionate law enforcement protocols, especially drug diversion programs. We also believe police shouldn’t be bogged down by low level drug arrests. They are on the front lines though, and as such are often best positioned to render aid. Perhaps a point person (or unit) in each department explicitly devoted to treatment would help. After all, less drug abusers means less drug sales, as well as less associated crime. That means fewer arrests all around. It also means a safer, more sane America.
How about you? Have you recently been arrested? Are you suffering from SUD? Are you ready to slip from the revolving door? Then give us a ring. We’ve been helping men forsake drugs and alcohol for 20 solid years. We’d be honored to help you too.
(Image courtesy PxHere)