Background: Individuals with substance use disorder often encounter law enforcement due to drug use-related criminal activity. Traditional policing approaches may not be effective for reducing recidivism and improving outcomes in this population. Here, we describe the impact of traditional policing approach to drug use-related crime on future recidivism, incarceration, and overdoses. Methods: Using a local Police Department (PD) database, we identified individuals with a police contact with probable cause to arrest for a drug use-related crime (“index contact”), including for an opioid-related overdose, between September 1, 2015, and August 31, 2016 (Group 1, N = 52). Data on police contacts, arrests, and incarceration 12 months before and after the index contact were extracted and compared using Fisher’s exact or Wilcoxon signed-rank tests. County-level data on fatal overdoses and estimates of time spent by PD officers in index contact-related responses were also collected. To determine whether crime-related outcomes changed over time, we identified a second group (Group 2, N = 263) whose index contact occurred between September 1, 2017, and August 31, 2020, and extracted data on police contacts, arrests, and incarceration during the 12 months prior to their index contact. Pre-index contact data between Groups 1 and 2 were compared with Fisher’s exact or Mann–Whitney U tests. Results: Comparison of data during 12 months before and 12 months after the index contact showed Group 1 increased their total number of overdose-related police contacts (6 versus 18; p = 0.024), incarceration rate (51.9% versus 84.6%; p = 0.001), and average incarceration duration per person (16.2 [SD = 38.6] to 50 days [SD = 72]; p < 0.001). In the six years following the index contact, 9.6% sustained a fatal opioid-related overdose. For Group 1, an average of 4.7 officers were involved, devoting an average total of 7.2 h per index contact. Comparison of pre-index contact data between Groups 1 and 2 showed similar rates of overdose-related police contacts and arrests. Conclusions: The results indicated that the traditional policing approach to drug use-related crime did not reduce arrests or incarceration and was associated with a risk of future overdose fatalities. Alternative law enforcement-led strategies, e.g., pre-arrest diversion-to-treatment programs, are urgently needed.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Medicine (miscellaneous)
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
- Psychiatry and Mental health