Law enforcement officials play a critical role in launching programs designed to reduce the risk of repeat overdoses in people who use drugs, the study finds. However, the findings also raise concerns that law enforcement’s involvement in the outreach component of these programs may undermine program effectiveness.

At issue are post-overdose outreach programs, which are designed to reach out to people who have recently survived an overdose. Specifically, the goal of the programs is to connect survivors to available resources—such as harm reduction and treatment—that reduce their likelihood of overdosing again.

“We have programs and treatment tools that work to reduce harms associated with drug use, but we often struggle to connect people to these resources,” says Alexander Walley, coauthor of the study and a professor of medicine at Boston University.

“These programs have expanded exponentially in recent years, and are likely to become even more common since they are eligible for funding from opioid settlement funds,” says Jennifer Carroll, an assistant professor of anthropology at North Carolina State University and corresponding author of the study. “However, best practices were not established for these programs until earlier this year, and we are still in the early stages of collecting evidence about how effective the programs are at actually doing what they aim to do.

“We found that access to law enforcement data is essential when getting post-overdose programs off the ground, because law enforcement data about suspected overdose events is unrestricted and not subject to any privacy laws that regulate medical information,” Carroll says.

“In other words, post-overdose programs have a ‘police paradox’—relying on law enforcement for information and support, but struggling with the fact that police involvement during the outreach process makes it harder to get the necessary buy-in from survivors and meet the program’s overdose prevention goals,” Carroll says.

Read the full article about drugs and policing by Matt Shipman at Futurity.