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Study: 83 percent of Chicago arrestees test positive for drugs

One out five men tested upadmissiCook County Jail tests positive for multiple drugs according White House study. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

One out of five men tested upon admission to Cook County Jail tests positive for multiple drugs, according to a White House study. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Percentage of arrestees testing positive for any drug

1. Chicago — 83

2. Sacramento — 80

3. New York ­— 75

4. Portland, Ore. — 74

5. Minneapolis — 71

6. Indianapolis — 69

7. Charlotte — 67

8. Denver — 63

9. Atlanta — 62

10. Washington D.C. — 52

Updated: August 3, 2011 9:55PM

You probably guessed as much, but a White House study released Wednesday now confirms it — Chicago criminals really are on drugs.

A startling 83 percent of men tested following their arrest in Cook County last year tested positive for at least one illegal drug, more than any of nine other major U.S. cities, according to the report released by U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske.

More than half of all inmates tested on admission to the Cook County Jail came up positive for marijuana, while a quarter tested positive for cocaine and more than one in 10 had heroin or other opiates in their urine. One in five tested positive for multiple drugs.

“It’s assumed that most people going through here either have drugs in their system or are in withdrawal when they are booked in,” said Tom Dart, whose jail staff have to deal with thousands of addicts each year.

“We don’t take note when someone goes through withdrawal because it happens so often.”

Though marijuana, cocaine and heroin use have all fallen slightly among arrestees since 2009, Chicago still outpaces Atlanta, Charlotte, Denver, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New York City, Portland, Ore., and Sacramento for criminal drug use, the report shows. Drug use among arrestees in Washington, D.C. — once the poster city for the crack cocaine epidemic — is 31 percentage points lower than in Chicago.

Dart cited Chicago’s status as a hub for drug trafficking as a possible explanation for why so many criminals here are using drugs, though he acknowledged it was difficult to pinpoint a single cause.

Of the approximately 10,000 inmates incarcerated at the jail, around 1,400 are in drug programs, and many more are on waiting lists to join, he said. Most addicts admit their problem when they’re booked, he said.

Young criminals under the age of 21 have the highest percentage of drug use but are more likely to use marijuana, while criminals over the age of 36 use less drugs but are much more likely to be heroin addicts, the study shows.

Cocaine and heroin users — who often steal to feed their habits — are overrepresented among those caught committing property crimes, while marijuana users account for a disproportionate number of drug arrests.

Dart said that while use of harder drugs tends to drive other crimes, most criminal marijuana users smoke the drug “like other people use alcohol — that’s just how it is.”

Methamphetamine and prescription drug abuse did not register as problems in the county jail.

The urine tests were conducted on a sample of 581 inmates. Interviews of the same inmates revealed that 31 percent did not graduate high school or have their GED, that 46 percent were out of work and that three-quarters had no health insurance.

Kerlikowske said the study shows that “drug addiction is too often the root of crime in our communities.”

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