Violence is among the primary concerns of
communities around the world, and research
from many settings has demonstrated clear
links between violence and the illicit drug trade,
particularly in urban settings. While violence has
traditionally been framed as resulting from the
effects of drugs on individual users (e.g., druginduced
psychosis), violence in drug markets
and in drug-producing areas such as Mexico is
increasingly understood as a means for drug gangs
to gain or maintain a share of the lucrative illicit
drug market.
Given the growing emphasis on evidencebased
policy-making and the ongoing severe
violence attributable to drug gangs in many
countries around the world, a systematic review
of the available English language scientific literature
was conducted to examine the impacts of
drug law enforcement interventions on drug
market violence. The hypothesis was that the
existing scientific evidence would demonstrate an
association between increasing drug law enforcement
expenditures or intensity and reduced levels
of violence.
This comprehensive review of the existing
scientific literature involved conventional systematic
searching, data extraction, and synthesis
methods, and adhered to the Preferred Reporting
Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses
(PRISMA) guidelines. Specifically, a complete
search of the English language literature was
undertaken using electronic databases (Academic
Search Complete, PubMed, PsycINFO, EMBASE,
Web of Science, Sociological Abstracts,
Social Service Abstracts, PAIS International
and Lexis-Nexis), the Internet (Google, Google
Scholar) and article reference lists from date of
inception to October 2009.
The initial search captured 306 studies for
further analysis. Of these, 15 were identified which
evaluated the impact of drug law enforcement
on violence: 11 (73%) presented findings from
longitudinal studies using regression analysis,
2 (13%) presented theoretical models of drug
market responses to drug law enforcement, and 2
(13%) presented qualitative data. Contrary to our
primary hypothesis, 13 (87%) studies reported
a likely adverse impact of drug law enforcement
on levels of violence. That is, most studies found
that increasing drug law enforcement intensity
resulted in increased rates of drug market violence.
Notably, 9 of the 11 studies (82%) employing
regression analyses of longitudinal data found a
significant positive association between drug law
enforcement increases and increased levels of
violence. One study (9%) that employed a theoretical
model reported that violence was negatively
associated with increased drug law enforcement.
The present systematic review evaluated
all available English language peer-reviewed
research on the impact of law enforcement on
drug market violence. The available scientific
evidence suggests that increasing the intensity of
law enforcement interventions to disrupt drug
markets is unlikely to reduce drug gang violence.
Instead, the existing evidence suggests that drugrelated
violence and high homicide rates are likely
a natural consequence of drug prohibition and
that increasingly sophisticated and well-resourced

methods of disrupting drug distribution networks

may unintentionally increase violence. From an
evidence-based public policy perspective, gun
violence and the enrichment of organized crime
networks appear to be natural consequences of
drug prohibition. In this context, and since drug
prohibition has not achieved its stated goal of
reducing drug supply, alternative models for drug
control may need to be considered if drug supply
and drug-related violence are to be meaningfully

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