U.S. 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. But Thursday's report, based on thousands of arrestee interviews and drug tests, showed that on average 71 percent of men arrested in 10 U.S. metropolitan areas last year tested positive for an illegal substance at the time they were taken into custody. The figures ranged from 64 percent of arrests in Atlanta to 81 percent in Sacramento, California, and were higher for nearly half of the collection sites since 2007. U.S. officials held up the data as evidence to support President Barack Obama's strategy aimed at breaking the cycle of drugs and crime by attacking substance abuse with treatment rather than jail for nonviolent offenders.