I commented yesterday about declining crime rates, and I want to continue that thought on my second day of jury duty. How could crime rates fall during a recession? Part of the link, I believe, is drugs. We know that prescription drug sales peaked a couple of years ago and have been declining as Americans become more skeptical about the value of drugs. I believe this change in attitude extends to all drugs, including alcohol and illegal recreational drugs. The decline in personal income may have accelerated this, as people hold on to their money and spend less on discretionary items such as drugs. Evidence of this can be seen in the decline in the reported street price of some drugs and the decline in advertising for beer and hard liquor. The new scandal about people sickened by two years of moldy Tylenol will surely add to the new skepticism about drugs.
What does this have to do with crime? Aside from the drug crimes themselves, which obviously could shrink if people are buying less, crimes tend to occur when people aren’t thinking straight — when they are making bad decisions because their brains aren’t working well. And this is a known effect of drugs generally. It’s a cliché when it comes to certain recreational drugs, but it’s also a known or suspected effect of most medical drugs — that’s part of the reason drug instructions may include a caution about driving and operating heavy machinery. They might as well also warn against getting angry and doing something stupid. With people being more skeptical about drugs, it’s no surprise if crime declines more or less in proportion.