High rates of imprisonment for drug offenses do not reduce drug use, according to findings in a new study by the Pew Charitable Trust.
The organization conducted an analysis of incarceration rates across different jurisdictions, Pew reported.
The rate of drug-offender imprisonment in Louisiana was more than seven times higher than it was in Massachusetts in 2014, but it did not result in fewer drug arrests or overdose deaths. Louisiana was in the middle of the 50 states when it came to rates of drug use, arrests and opioid deaths.
The finding was true across various demographics, including education, employment, race and household income.
"There seems to be this assumption that tough penalties will send a stronger message and deter people from involvement with drugs," Adam Gelb, director of Pew's Public Safety Performance Project, told NBC News. "This is not borne out by the data."
A commission headed by Chris Christie has been established to determine the Trump administration's policy towards drug offenses and the opioid crisis. It held its first public meeting June 16.
More than 50,000 people died from opioid use in 2016.
In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo to prosecutors calling on them to pursue the strictest sentences possible for drug offenses. His memo overturned a policy implemented under the Obama administration, which granted judges discretion to impose lighter sentences on some drug users.
The attorney general argued that if sentences were to be reduced, Congress should adopt such measures rather than the executive branch introducing them unilaterally.
"This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency," Sessions wrote in the memo, according to Politico. "This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us."
Sessions maintained that stricter sentencing would help resolve the drug problem.
"It is a big, critical part of it," Sessions said at a conference on addiction in West Virginia, where he criticized "the pro-drug crowd." "We're on a bad trend right now. We've got too much complacency about drugs. Too much talk about recreational drugs."
Gelb hopes the Pew data will change policymakers' minds on the issue.
"This is fresh data that should inform the important conversation happening in Washington and around the country about what the most effective strategies are for combating the rise in opioid addiction and other substance abuse," he told NBC.