When police get suspected drug abusers treatment rather than arresting them, those people are less likely to abuse drugs or commit drug-related crimes in the future, new, limited research finds. This kind of police intervention can help reduce opioid abuse.

Historically, for public safety, police have arrested people suspected of using drugs. Research shows, though, that this approach has not been effective at reducing drug abuse or related crimes.

But there is another way that appears to work better. In Arizona, the Tucson Police Department is trying an approach known as prearrest diversion. When officers respond to community calls about crime, they sometimes suspect the perpetrator may be abusing drugs. When they do, they don’t always arrest that person. Instead, officers connect that person with substance abuse treatment providers. I recently led a study that found this approach is as effective as arrest at reducing both drug abuse and crime.

My research shows that 2,129 times in a three-year period, officers sent people to substance abuse treatment instead of arresting them. And officers gave people rides to treatment 965 times. The data I analyzed also shows this approach takes 25 minutes less time, per incident, on average, than arresting people.

Programs like these represent a shift from arrest and criminalization of people who abuse drugs toward a police response that focuses on longer-term reduction of drug abuse.

My team’s research shows that people who were offered substance abuse treatment, instead of being arrested, decreased their drug use more than people who were not offered substance abuse treatment and were arrested. On average, six months after their interaction with Tucson police, people who accepted diversion to a substance abuse treatment program used illegal drugs less frequently than people who had been arrested.

Read the full article about drugs and policing by Jospehine Korchmaros at Yes Magazine.