Drug-Related Arrests in a Cohort of Public Mental Health Service Recipients

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ObjectivesThe excessive prevalence of comorbid substance abuse among persons with severe mental illness has been well established and identified as the source of numerous negative outcomes. An overlooked aspect of illicit drug use in this population is its illegality and the potentially dire criminal sanctions. This study examined the prevalence of drug arrests in a cohort of persons receiving services from a state mental health agency who were followed for roughly ten years.MethodsData on arrest spanning from 1991 to 2000 were obtained for all individuals receiving inpatient, case management, or residential services from July 1991 to June 1992 (N=13,816). Reports of prevalence were based on the number with at least one drug-related arrest in the observation period.ResultsFive percent of individuals in the cohort experienced at least one drug-related arrest (N=720). These included simple possession as well as manufacturing and distribution. The prevalence was much higher (15%) among persons aged 18 to 25 years than in other age groups. Roughly 95% of persons with a drug arrest also had an arrest for another type of offense. This pattern is similar to that observed among persons with a drug-related arrest in the general population.ConclusionsConvictions on drug charges can void access to Section Eight housing and other benefits and are associated with other patterns of offending that also carry significant criminal sanctions. State mental health agencies may wish to target interventions toward youthful clientele by focusing specifically on the risks associated with involvement with illicit drugs.

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