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The Relationship between Police Contacts for Drug Use-related Crime and Future Arrests, Incarceration, and Overdoses: A Retrospective Observational Study Highlighting the Need to Break the Vicious Cycle

NCJ Number
Harm Reduction Journal Volume: 19 Issue: 1 Dated: June 2022 Pages: 67
Date Published
June 2022
10 pages

Here, we describe the impact of traditional policing approach to drug use-related crime on future recidivism, incarceration, and overdoses.


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. 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. 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. (Publisher abstract provided)

Date Published: June 1, 2022