Trends in opioid-related crime incidents and comparison with opioid overdose outcomes in the United States

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background: The opioid epidemic in the United States remains a critically important public health issue and continues to worsen. While healthcare data and outcomes are commonly used to characterize the state of the epidemic and evaluate the impact of policy changes, criminal justice data is under-utilized in research despite its high relevance and unique role in the opioid crisis. Our objective is to understand temporal trends in opioid-related crime incidents and the comparability with the dynamic patterns in health-related outcomes. Methods: We used incident-level crime data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) during 2005–2018. We identified all incidents involving opioids, which were grouped by opioid type (illicit and prescription opioids), and by drug-related criminal activity (possession and distribution). We estimated annual opioid-related crime incident rates per 100,000 residents. Joinpoint analysis was performed to examine the significant changes in the temporal trends of crime incident rates. We examined the association between opioid-related crime incidents and health outcomes using state fixed effects regression models. Results: Among the NIBRS covered population, incident rates of all opioid-related crimes increased significantly from 32.0 to 91.4 per 100,000 between 2005 and 2016, followed by a moderate decrease to 78.3 per 100,000 by 2018. The initial increase in incident rates was predominantly driven by prescription opioid-related incidents which increased by 19.6% per year from 2005 to 2010. Between 2010 and 2015, most of the increase came from illicit opioid-related incidents which accelerated to an increase of 21.6% per year. Opioid-related crime incident rates were found to be significantly and positively associated with rates of opioid-related emergency department visits, inpatient hospitalization, and overdose mortality. Conclusion: Crime data describe temporal trends and shifting patterns in the opioid epidemic that are highly consistent with health-related data. Criminal justice data could be a potentially powerful tool to understand the changing landscape of opioid and substance use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103555
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
StatePublished - Mar 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


Dive into the research topics of 'Trends in opioid-related crime incidents and comparison with opioid overdose outcomes in the United States'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this