Imprisoning Drug Offenders Doesn't Impact Drug Use, New Study Says

Pew researchers find no direct link between penalties and drug use

Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/Getty

A new Pew study released this week concludes that despite policies to the contrary, there is actually no direct link between drug penalties and drug use.

According to NBC News, researchers from the Pew Charitable Trusts collected data from states nationwide and examined them across four categories: incarceration of drug offenders, overdose deaths, drug arrests and drug use. (The latest year for which all data was available was 2014.)

The results showed that contrary to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' approach to the war on drugs, more punishment has no effect on decreasing levels of drug use.

"This is fresh data that should inform the important conversation happening in Washington and around the country about what the most effective strategies are for combatting the rise in opioid addiction and other substance abuse," Adam Gelb, director of Pew's public safety performance project, told NBC News.

"There seems to be this assumption that tougher penalties will send a stronger message and deter people from involvement with drugs," he continued. "This is not borne out by the data."

Gelb and his team sent their findings in a letter to Chris Christie Monday, in hopes that the new study will help shape the ways in which President Trump's administration seeks to tackle an addiction crisis that killed more than 50,000 people last year. (Christie is both the governor of New Jersey and head of Trump's Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.)

The Trump administration has made numerous head-scratching decisions in their ongoing war on drugs since taking office; just last month, Sessions wrote a letter to Congress asking congressional leaders to allow the federal government to override state marijuana laws. In the letter, Sessions linked marijuana use to a "potentially long-term uptick in violent crime."

Last week, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill fighting back against Sessions, with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker noting that the nation's marijuana laws "are broken. They are savagely broken, and the jagged pieces are hurting American people."