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Crime halved once drug addicts are on the road to recovery

Crimes committed by known drug-dependent offenders fell by almost half when they successfully completed a drug treatment programme, according to new research published today. The largest empirical study ever conducted in England on the impact of drug treatment on crime also showed a similar drop in convictions among those retained in treatment for up to two years. The longer those individuals were retained, the bigger the drop in convictions.

Researchers at the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) compared data from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) with conviction records from the Police National Computer for almost 20,000 known offenders – mainly heroin addicts - who started treatment in 2006-7. 

The study then observed the differences in conviction rates between the two years before entering treatment and the two years after, and found convictions reduced by 47 - 48% for those who completed treatment successfully after at least six months or who were retained.

However, just over half of the sample dropped out of treatment altogether during the two years after their assessment, and their re-offending accounted for three-quarters of the convictions during that period. The fall in convictions among those who stayed in treatment was three times greater than among those who dropped out.  

Previous research has shown that the crime reduction benefit of treatment starts immediately and continues all the time individuals stay in treatment. This is the first time that it has been possible to report on the continuing post-treatment crime reduction benefits for the increasing number of people who are successfully completing treatment and sustaining their recovery in the community.

Detailed findings from the study, The Impact of Drug Treatment on Reconviction, showed:

  • Individuals who successfully completed a drug treatment programme after at least six months reduced their convictions by 48%.
  • Individuals who were retained in treatment for the entire two-year research period reduced their convictions by 47%.
  • The most dramatic falls in convictions were for soliciting (59%), and fraud or forgery (57%).
  • The biggest single reduction in offences was almost 11,000 fewer thefts, a 24% fall.
  • Heroin and crack addicts were twice as likely to have convictions before treatment than other drug users.

The results suggest that drug treatment reduces recorded convictions and therefore (by proxy) reduces offending, since the greater the successful engagement in treatment, the greater the observed reduction in crime.

Paul Hayes, NTA Chief Executive, said:"Fewer crimes make society safer and also mean fewer victims. That's why it is so important to get drug dependent offenders into treatment, prevent them from dropping out, and enable them to recover from their addiction.

"This research shows not only that the longer someone is retained in drug treatment, the bigger the drop in convictions, but that similar crime reduction benefits are gained from the increasing number of people who are successfully completing treatment and sustaining their recovery in the community."


This study used data derived from the Drugs Data Warehouse project, developed by the Home Office and the National Drug Evidence Centre at Manchester University, to anonymously link administrative records relating to the same individuals.

The findings echo previous studies that indicated treatment cuts crime by up half, but do so on the basis of actual convictions rather than relying on self-reported crime by drug users.

The study identified 19,570 people with a PNC record out of 53,851 who began treatment in 2006-7, but acknowledged it was possible that others were offending but had simply not been caught.  

It also pointed out that, among heroin addicts, some offending behaviour often predated their drug misuse, so that stopping their drug-taking would not necessarily end all their criminal activity.  

The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) is a National Health Service (NHS) special health authority which aims to improve the availability, capacity and effectiveness of drug treatment in England.  We help people to overcome addiction and regain their lives.

From April 2013, the NTA's core functions will transfer to Public Health England, and the NTA will cease to exist as a separate organisation.

The Impact of Drug Treatment on Reconviction, NTA 2012, is available here.

For further information contact the NTA press office on 020 7972 1921 or out of hours call 07795 036460 or visit the NTA website www.nta.nhs.uk  for a copy of 'Drug Treatment in England: the road to recovery' for a summary of how treatment works.

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