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January 28, 2016

Violent Crime Lower Near Drug Treatment Centers Than Other Commercial Areas

Baltimore findings offer empirical evidence to counter claims that methadone and other outpatient clinics attract criminal element

Despite conventional wisdom that outpatient drug treatment centers such as methadone clinics bring violent crime into the neighborhoods where they sit, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests there may actually be less serious crime near clinics than other community businesses.

The researchers, publishing in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, compared 2011 violent crime statistics near 53 publicly funded treatment centers in Baltimore and found that the areas around 53 comparable liquor stores and corner stores saw significantly more homicides, rapes, aggravated assaults and robberies per business than the areas around drug treatment centers.

The researchers say these findings strike a blow to the argument many use to keep new treatment centers from being opened in their neighborhoods, that the coming and going of drug addicts receiving daily methadone and other treatment brings with it a dangerous element.

“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, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Mental Health at the Bloomberg School. “They have gotten a reputation as magnets for crime, 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.”

For the study, the researchers mapped businesses in Baltimore and violent crime in those locations. They also looked at the socioeconomic status of the areas surrounding each business. They considered liquor stores, corner stores (defined as small mom-and-pop type stores and very common throughout the city) and convenience stores (larger, more corporate establishments). All business areas have more crime than residential neighborhoods, the researchers say, because there tends to be greater foot and vehicle traffic and routine activity, which creates both cover and opportunity for crime.

The researchers found a 25 percent increase in violent crime around liquor stores and corner stores as compared to drug treatment centers. Crime around the city’s convenience stores was comparable to crime around the treatment centers.

They also didn’t include crimes that actually occurred in the individual business types, as liquor, corner and convenience stores are known to be robbed more often than drug treatment centers.

Furr-Holden says it has been a struggle to get drug treatment centers opened in areas with the largest unmet need for addiction services, primarily because of a not-in-my-backyard mentality associated with these clinics. There is a lot of stigma associated with drug addicts, a feeling that they are criminals who brought their troubles on themselves, she says, when addiction is a medical condition requiring treatment.

“There’s a lot of bias and bigotry against people with addiction problems,” says study co-author Adam J. Milam, PhD, MHS, an associate in the Department of Mental Health at the Bloomberg School. “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.”

Over the years, regulations, community opposition and other factors have made it difficult to open treatment centers in many parts of Baltimore where they are most needed, the researchers say.

“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.”

Not in My Back Yard: A Comparative Analysis of Crime Around Publicly Funded Drug Treatment Centers, Liquor Stores, Convenience Stores, and Corner Stores in One Mid-Atlantic City” was written by C. Debra M. Furr-Holden; Adam J. Milam; Elizabeth Nesoff; Renee Johnson; David O. Fakunle; Jacky M. Jennings; and Roland J. Thorpe.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (T32DA007292-23); the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (5P60MD000214-14) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Barbara Benham at 410-614-6029 or bbenham1@jhu.edu and  Stephanie Desmon at 410-955-7619 or sdesmon1@jhu.edu.