Methamphetamine use and acquisitive crime: evidence of a relationship

Crime Theft Methamphetamine abuse Drug abuse Australia


Methamphetamine use among Australian police detainees is rising; the impact of this rise on crime trends, and particularly on trends in acquisitive crime, is yet to be established. Identifying trends in and motivations for offending among methamphetamine users may assist law enforcement and policymakers to better target resources.

This paper examines the engagement in acquisitive crime, and perceived motivations for methamphetamine-driven crime, of a sample of Australian police detainees recruited in 2013 through the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program.

Methamphetamine users reported deriving a significantly higher proportion of their income from crime than non-users. Logistic regression analysis reveals the use of methamphetamine, heroin and/or cannabis predicts engagement in acquisitive crime when other drug use and polydrug use is controlled for. In addition, methamphetamine users reported their use played a contributing role in their offending, most commonly through intoxication or the need for money to purchase drugs.

The findings indicate recent methamphetamine use increases the risk of engagement in acquisitive offences.

Methamphetamine is a drug of concern in Australia, with availability and purity on the rise (ACC 2014). The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC; formerly Australian Crime Commission; ACC) has identified methamphetamine as presenting a risk to the Australian community in a number of ways, including through its link with engagement in property crime (2015). Recent data from the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program indicates methamphetamine use among police detainees has risen 23 percentage points, from 14 percent in 2009 to 37 percent in 2014 (Goldsmid & Brown 2015). If methamphetamine use is associated with an increased likelihood of engagement in property crimes, as the ACIC suggests, then a commensurate rise in property crime—at least among offender populations—can be anticipated. Identifying the factors and motivations that lead to methamphetamine-driven offending could assist law enforcement and government to predict and combat future crime trends.

There is substantial empirical evidence of an association between illicit drug use and offending (Makkai 2003; Bennett & Holloway 2005; Best, Sidwell, Gossop, Harris & Strang 2001). Specifically, methamphetamine use has been associated with an increased risk of engagement in violent (Darke et al. 2009; Brecht & Herbeck 2013) and property offences (Gizzi & Gerkin 2010), although not all illicit drug users engage in crime (Morgan 2014). The current study aims to explore the relationship between methamphetamine use and offending, with a focus on offender populations as represented by people in police detention at the time of interview.

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