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Friday, June 17, 2011

Hard drug use down sharply among Chicago arrestees since 2000

Posted by on 06.17.11 at 01:51 PM

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  • Torben Bjorn Hansen
Yesterday, I pointed to a Sun-Times story about a federal drug study released this week of illegal drug use by male arrestees in ten cities. I quarreled with the paper's interchangeable use of "arrestees" and "criminals." But a bigger shortcoming of the Sun-Times piece was that it ignored important news.

The Sun-Times highlighted the fact that 83 percent of the Cook County arrestees in the study, conducted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, tested positive for at least one illegal drug, and that this put Chicago at the top of the list of the ten cities studied.

But since the study's inception in 2000, Chicago has always been at or near the top of this list, and the percent testing positive here has always been above 80. What's also worth noting now is that the percent testing positive here for cocaine and heroin fell last year, and has declined sharply since 2000.

In 2000, 50 percent of Cook County arrestees tested were positive for cocaine. By 2009, this had dropped to 33 percent, and it dropped again last year, to 29 percent—the lowest percent locally in the study's history. (The cocaine positives have declined significantly since 2000 in all ten cities studied.)

In 2000, 36 percent of the arrestees here were positive for heroin. By 2009, this had declined to 18 percent, and last year it declined again, to 14 percent—also the lowest percent in the study's history. (The trend in heroin positives in the other cities has been mixed.)

Together, the percent testing positive for cocaine or heroin in Cook County in 2010 was half what it was in 2000—43 percent, compared with 86 percent. The percent testing positive for methamphetamine and Oxycodone has always been negligible here.

The percent testing positive for marijuana among Cook County arrestees, meantime, rose slightly during the decade, from 53 percent in 2000 to 56 percent last year.

In 2000, 89 percent of the arrestees tested here tested positive for at least one illegal drug, compared with last year's 83 percent. Why wasn't the decline steeper, given the sharp drop in cocaine and heroin positives? I believe it's because marijuana users among today's arrestees are less likely to also be using a hard drug. The percent of arrestees testing positive in 2000 for multiple drugs, 56 percent, fell to less than half that last year—27 percent. This major decline isn't reflected in the aggregate figures; a marijuana user who's not also using cocaine or heroin is still a positive.

The percent of arrestees with drugs in their system is still remarkably large. But compared with ten years ago, the drug in their system is far more likely to be marijuana than cocaine or heroin.

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