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National Institute on Drug Abuse -  NIDA NOTES
Violence and Drug Abuse
Volume 10, Number 2
March/April 1995

NIDA Refocuses Its Research on Drug-Related Violence


By Neil Swan, NIDA NOTES Contributing Writer


Increasingly, the public is becoming aware of the critical connection between drug abuse and violence. Drug abuse and activities such as drug dealing play a major but often not fully defined role in violent behavior. Because of that link, NIDA is focusing new attention on coordinating long-standing extramural research efforts into the relationship between drug abuse and violence.

As part of its new focus on drug-related violence, NIDA will identify knowledge gaps in research on drug-related violence and victimization, and staff members will make recommendations for coordinating, enhancing, and expanding current projects and research approaches. The Institute also will involve outside experts from a broad range of academic fields in its efforts to understand the relationship between drugs and violence.

Currently, NIDA-supported research is examining the connection between drug use and a broad range of crimes, including homicide, rape, domestic violence, child abuse, and gang-related violence. "The emphasis now will be on better coordinating those studies and concentrating attention on the big picture - the psychological, social, and physical environments that spawn both drug abuse and drug-related violence in American society today," says Dr. Donald Ray Vereen, Jr., a psychiatrist and special assistant to the NIDA director for medical affairs.

"We need to build on our epidemiological data and knowledge of individual risk factors that contribute to drug use among adolescents," Dr. Vereen says. "And we must move ahead by determining how this knowledge interacts with the environment in which young people are growing up and living. We should be advancing from individual [drug use] risk factors to macro, or environmental, considerations."


NIDA-supported research is examining
the connection between drug use and
a broad range of crimes...



NIDA already has a track record in drug-related violence research and currently supports more than 20 studies on the subject. These include research into the relationship between drug use and domestic violence, studies about drugs and gang-related violence, and projects that focus on drug-related homicide. NIDA-funded researchers, many of them minority investigators, also are examining violence related to drug distribution networks.

One NIDA-funded study in Milwaukee is trying to identify and describe patterns of drug use and the structure of drug dealing among gang members and to determine how both of these relate to gang violence. A study in San Jose, California, is exploring the history and activities of gangs of Southeast Asian youth, their patterns of drug use and sales, and their use of weapons and drug-related violence.

Other NIDA-funded projects are examining the risk factors associated with drug-connected violent behavior in high-risk populations such as juvenile delinquents, school dropouts, and children of drug abusers. In these studies, researchers are looking at potential risk factors such as abnormal brain function, psychiatric problems, gender, low self-esteem, association with deviant peers, family problems, the stress associated with adapting to a foreign culture, and community disintegration. One of these studies involves teenagers under the jurisdiction of the Virginia juvenile court system. This study is investigating early parent-child bonding and its effect on adolescent drug use and other deviant behaviors of seriously delinquent youth.

NIDA also supports research evaluating the efficacy of prevention interventions designed to prevent drug-related violence and treatment programs designed to treat both drug-involved criminal offenders and drug addicts who also have psychiatric conditions. One study in Denver is examining drug abuse among youths with conduct disorders and the efficacy of three medications used to treat major depressive and aggressive disorders.

In a related activity, NIDA provided partial funding for a 2-day violence research workshop held in February in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the American Psychological Association. More than 30 professional organizations participated and will issue recommendations to develop and implement antiviolence initiatives for NIDA and for the professional groups and their members as well.

To coordinate activities and research on violence related to drug abuse, NIDA has created a staff panel known unofficially as the Drugs and Violence Work Group, which is cochaired by Ann Blanken of the Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research and Helen Cesari of the Community Research Branch. The panel is working closely with NIDA's Prevention Working Group, chaired by Dr. William J. Bukoski, chief of NIDA's Prevention Research Branch.

From NIDA NOTES, March/April, 1995


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