Neighborhood Watch: Drug Sales Drive Drug Use

Neighborhood Watch: Drug Sales Drive Drug Use


Community prevention organizations have known for many years that one of the best predictors of drug use is what’s known as “perception of risk.” In general, the higher the perceived risk for a particular drug, the fewer teens and young adults are using that drug.

A new study published in the journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy zeroes in on peer attitudes around drug use in neighborhoods and compares them to the perceived frequency of drug use and drug sales.

Community Influence

New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR) used renowned data from the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of students in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades. For the purposes of this study, they focused on data collected from 10,050 senior students who had completely answered each of the questions related to peer disapproval and neighborhood drug sales.

Dr. Dustin T. Duncan, a CDUHR researcher and an assistant professor of population health at NYU Langone Medical Center, said his team found a “strong association” between the perceived numbers of neighborhood drug sales and actual drug use.

“Those who reported seeing neighborhood sales ‘almost every day’ were 11 times more likely to report 30-day use of more than one illicit drug compared to those who reported never seeing neighborhood drug sales and reported no 30-day use of illicit drugs,” Duncan said.

Those who reported seeing neighborhood sales ‘almost every day’ were 11 times more likely to report 30-day use of more than one illicit drug…-Dr. Dustin T. Duncan

Perception Among Peers

Report findings also showed lower peer disapproval of marijuana and cocaine use when associated with neighborhood drug sales.

“The clear association between open drug selling and lower disapproval toward drug use may help explain drug use among these teens,” said Dr. Joseph Palamar, co-author of the study.

For 2014, when it comes to marijuana use, neighborhood perception of risk vs. actual use is slightly different on the national level. In the 2014 Monitoring the Future survey results released on December 16, marijuana usage across all three grades had actually dropped from 26 percent to 24 percent.

“The belief that regular marijuana use harms the user, however, continues to fall among youth, so changes in this belief do not seem to explain the change in use this year, as it has done over most of the life of the study,” said Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator for the MTF study.

Taking Action Locally

At the neighborhood level, Duncan and his CDUHR team remain hopeful that implementation of neighborhood-to-neighborhood policy changes will cause illicit drug use to eventually drop.

“A reduction in ‘open’ drug sales will hopefully reduce peer approval, and subsequently illicit drug use,” Duncan said.


Additional Reading: Your Brain on Drugs: Studying Cocaine’s Effect on Blood Flow

Image Credits: Instagram/themathhattan


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