The use of illegal drugs and crime go hand in hand. In far too many cases, drug users will literally do anything to obtain enough drugs to satisfy a habit. The crimes most frequently committed by drug abusers are those by which the drug user can gain the most money for the least amount of effort, usually by theft, prostitution and drug peddling. This, however does not limit the types of crimes committed, exemplified by stories of business executives who have stolen company funds and of workers who have intentionally damaged goods in order to acquire them at a reduced rate and then sell them for more money on the street to finance their habit. There is also the strong criminal associations of drug growing, manufacture, smuggling and trafficking.
A recent study in metropolitan areas of a major industrialized nation found that roughly 50% of those arrested on the street had one or more drugs in their system. Drug arrests and prosecutions have increased each year in the USA since 1980, and are the largest single factor behind the rise in prison populations during this period. In 1987 it was estimated that one in three US households was affected by a drug-related crime every year. 1990s research in the UK suggests that almost half of all property crime and theft may be committed to maintain drug addictions (including alcohol) and that three out of four people on probation had committed their last offence to maintain a drug or alcohol addiction.
Between mid-1980s and the end of the century, the number of arrests for drug offences rose considerably in the countries of the European Union. It was twofold in Denmark and Italy, for example, and sixfold in Belgium, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Finland. Cannabis was the drug most often involved in arrests. Depending on the country, drug offenders accounted for between 15% and 50% of the total jail population in the EU, while drug use was reported in the case of 30% to 90% of prisoners.
Recidivism rates for drug offenders are relatively high. Deprivation of liberty is not, in itself, necessarily an effective deterrent for any category of drug offender.