WASHINGTON - US crime statistics show illegal drugs play a central role in criminal acts, providing new evidence that tackling drugs as a public health issue could offer a powerful tool for lowering national crime rates, officials said on Thursday.

An annual drug monitoring report, released by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, also showed a decline in the use of cocaine since 2003, a sign that drug-interdiction efforts and public education campaigns may be curtailing the use of the drug's powder and crack forms.

The rate of overall illegal drug use in the United States has declined by roughly 30 percent since 1979.

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