New White House Report Outlines Recommendations to Stem the Tide of Drug Overdose Deaths

New White House Report Outlines Recommendations To Stem The Tide Of Drug Overdose Deaths Full
The justice system is a key intervention point in any public health approach to combating the drug overdose epidemic.

The commission also focuses on law enforcement’s ability to prevent overdoses and save lives by urging the president to provide legislation for states to allow dispensing naloxone via standing orders. Naloxone is a life-saving drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, is non-addictive, and has no effect if a person does not have opioids in their system. Because naloxone requires a doctor’s prescription, some states and localities have employed the use of standing orders to ensure other designated people can receive naloxone; this practice has helped increase distribution of the drug and has saved numerous lives.

While the commission’s recommendation emphasizes increasing access to law enforcement, the report also states, “The Federal Government should ensure that naloxone is made available when there is the greatest risk for an overdose.” This means that outreach to formerly incarcerated people is crucial: one study demonstrated that the relative risk of death from a drug overdose is over 12 times higher for people released from prison (in the first two weeks after release) as compared with other residents.

In 2016, Vera partnered with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), the New York State Department of Health, and the Harm Reduction Coalition to conduct a process evaluation of an innovative program in which DOCCS has committed to training all soon-to-be-released individuals on opioid overdose prevention, and makes naloxone available to these individuals upon release from custody. In addition to training people who are incarcerated, the program offers trainings to DOCCS staff as well as family members of incarcerated individuals. At the time of Vera’s evaluation, over 12,000 individuals had been trained through this program. Vera’s evaluation focused on understanding the development and implementation of the program in New York State, describing early program results, and providing feedback for program improvement and to inform similar efforts in other jurisdictions. An upcoming publication will highlight outcomes of the New York State program and outline important considerations for other jurisdictions implementing similar corrections-based strategies.

As leaders in the criminal justice field begin to incorporate harm reduction strategies into their practices, it is equally important to recognize remaining gaps in access to these essential treatment options for people who come into contact with our justice system. The commission’s inclusion of these harm reduction principles is a promising sign that attitudes may be shifting; as the work of the commission continues, commission members should continue to keep these vulnerable populations in the forefront of their mind.

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