Understanding the impact of opioid agonist treatment in reducing crime


By Dr Natasa Gisev, Scientia Fellow, National Drug and Alcohol Research CentreIn a recently published study, we examined the link between opioid agonist treatment (OAT) and crime in nearly 11,000 people in New South Wales (NSW).

Key findings

Our findings show that OAT is associated with a significant reduction in overall charge rates and is most protective with increased treatment engagement. Importantly, we found that episodes of continuous treatment were associated with lower charge rates compared to those where individuals cycled in and out of treatment. We therefore need to focus on encouraging greater retention in treatment to maximise the long-term health and social benefits of OAT.

Although pharmacological treatment provides many health benefits and reduces criminal offending, other factors that may contribute to offending such as poverty, unemployment and social and environmental circumstances also need to be addressed. There is a complex relationship between opioid dependence, OAT and crime, and it’s important that we look at the broader context in which offending occurs. Hence, the reasons motivating an individual to offend also need to be considered to address the full scope of the issue. It is almost important to bear in mind that not all individuals who are opioid dependent commit crimes – in our study 46% of people had no criminal convictions.

Overall, from this study we know that OAT reduces offending, and that longer periods of treatment appear to be most beneficial in achieving improved crime rates. This adds to other research showing that most benefits of OAT come with being in treatment for longer periods, even many years.