Substance Abuse Treatment Centers and Local Crime

Bondurant, Samuel; Lindo, Jason; and Isaac Swensen (2018). Journal of Urban Economics


Drug-induced deaths in the United States have increased 280% since 1999 and now represent the largest major category of external causes of death. Research has shown that policies aimed at decreasing the supply of illicit drugs are rarely effective. In contrast, recent work suggests that increasing access to substance-abuse-treatment (SAT) by expanding the number of treatment facilities significantly reduces drug abuse. The presence of SAT facilities may also provide benefits to communities by reducing crime.

SAT can potentially reduce violence in several ways: reducing the use of drugs that lead to aggressive behavior, reducing crimes committed by addicts seeking funds to buy drugs, and reducing violence among those associated with the drug trade. In addition, SAT has the potential to reduce violence because it can facilitate treatment for the underlying mental health problems that are often associated with drug addiction.

This paper uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns to identify county-level changes in the number of SAT facilities. This data is combined with county-level information on homicide and other violent and property crimes, and used to estimate the impact of an additional SAT facility on crime rates within that same county.

The estimates suggest that an additional SAT facility in a county reduces rates of homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, motor vehicle theft, and burglary. While these data cannot separate the effects of SAT facilities on those who receive treatment from the effects of facilities on the broader community, the results of this analyses provides evidence for broad-based benefits of SAT facilities in terms of public safety, and suggest that the benefits of expanding treatment facilities far outweigh the associated treatment costs.