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  • Josh Crawford

(Even more) Evidence Louisville's Increase in Violence Isn’t Caused by the Opioid Crisis.

The central claim of our initial report on violence in Louisville was that gangs, not drugs, were the primary cause of our vast increase in homicides. Since the publication of that report, some additional research has come to my attention.

Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri – St. Louis has a study out entitled; “Documenting and Explaining the 2015 Homicide Rise: Research Directions.”

Dr. Rosenfeld examines a number of potential causes for the 2015 spike in homicide, one of them being the expanded use of and market in, opioids. What Dr. Rosenfeld finds however is that it is unlikely that the reversal in homicide trends (from declining to increasing) is because of the opioid crisis.

Rosenfeld presents two problems with drawing a causal relationship between the two events. First, the socioeconomic and racial make-up of the two events are different and second, the timing of the two doesn’t mach.

Notably, while the increase in homicides and opioid use overlap, the increase in opioid use happened several years before the increase in homicides. Rosenfeld explains;

[T]he major reason to be skeptical of the view that the expansion of the heroin markets led to the homicide increase of 2015 is that the heroin epidemic took off several years before the homicide rise. Heroin overdose deaths were essentially unchanged between 1999 and 2006. They rose gradually over the next few years and then increased sharply beginning in 2011. It is not obvious why the increase in homicide would lag at least five years behind the explosive growth in the demand for heroin, if the expansion of urban drug markets spurred the homicide rise. (Emphasis added)

The same holds true in Jefferson County. According to data obtained from the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center, drug overdose deaths began spiking several years before our homicides.

This, of course, further shows that a policing strategy focused on suppressing the illicit drug market will not inherently reduce violence and murder.

While heroine seizures were up 30% from 2015-2016 in Louisville, we set an all-time record in homicides. This is consistent with what would be expected in light of the Nashville experiment with open-air drug market suppression. Nashville’s overwhelmingly successful attempt at suppressing the open-air drug market in East Nashville resulted in 55% reduction in illegal drug possession offenses, 37% reduction in drug equipment offenses, and 28% reduction in property crimes reported, but did not have a statistically significant impact on violent crime.

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