Spotlight

Addressing Opioids

A crisis

As the United States continues to grapple with an opioid overdose crisis, it’s imperative that policymakers recognize that enforcement-led approaches have long failed to reduce illicit drug use or associated crime. Drug offenses are the most common reason for arrest in the United States, accounting for nearly 14 percent of all arrests in 2015. And it is estimated that nearly two thirds of people serving sentences meet criteria for drug dependence or abuse. But enforcement-led approaches to drug use have failed to meet their intended goals and in fact have contributed to mass incarceration and exacerbated racial disparities in the justice system.

There is increasing momentum, however, for a smarter, more effective, and more compassionate approach to people who use drugs that is grounded in evidence. Some innovative jurisdictions are implementing harm reduction strategies such as alternatives to incarceration, medication assisted treatment, and overdose prevention and naloxone distribution. Read more about the work being done to embrace public health approaches to drug use that have the potential to reduce overdose deaths, improve the wellbeing of justice system-involved people, and advance the health and safety of communities.

A New Normal

Addressing Opioid Use through the Criminal Justice System

The United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose deaths that cuts across economic, racial, and geographic boundaries. In the midst of this devastation, people are struggling to find ways to save the lives of their community members. While the “war on drugs” created tough enforcement policies that resulted in a bloated justice system, ...

Publication
  • Leah Pope, Chelsea Davis, David Cloud, Ayesha Delany-Brumsey
February 21, 2017
Publication
While the “war on drugs” created tough enforcement policies that resulted in a bloated justice system, there is increasing momentum for a smarter and more compassionate approach to people who use drugs.
The gap between the health needs of people in jail and the services jails provide is glaringly evident when thinking about how jails are responding to the current opioid crisis. According to surveys conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of people in jail meet criteria for drug dependence or abuse.

Minimizing Harm

Public Health and Justice System Responses to Drug Use and the Opioid Crisis

For the Record Evidence Brief SeriesHow government and communities should respond to drug use is a perennial question that has gained a renewed sense of urgency in the face of the current opioid overdose crisis, and annual deaths from overdose have grown more than ninefold since 1980. In addition to the thousands of lives claimed, thousands more Am...

Publication
  • Jim Parsons, Scarlet Neath
December 13, 2017
Publication
This brief discusses the two leading approaches to drug use in America—treatment, prevention, and harm reduction on one hand; and enforcement of drug laws and incarceration of drug users on the other.
West Virginia, which leads the nation in opioid use and overdose deaths, is both an epicenter of the opioid crisis and a promising case study of how the justice system can improve its response.
A 2014 poll from the nonprofit research organization PRRI revealed that 77 percent of Americans believe mandatory minimum sentences should be eliminated for nonviolent offenses. Another poll that same year from Pew Trusts showed 67 percent of Americans support treatment, not incarceration, for drug use.
This video highlights some innovative jurisdictions that are implementing harm reduction strategies in order to reduce overdose deaths, improve the wellbeing of justice system-involved people, and advance the health and safety of their communities.

A Path to Recovery

Treating Opioid Use in West Virginia's Criminal Justice System

In the United States, a disproportionate number of people who come into contact with the criminal justice system suffer from opioid use disorder. Key to confronting the opioid epidemic and related deaths is expanding access to a range of treatment options, including all forms of medication-assisted treatment (MAT). This report looks at how one stat...

Publication
  • Ram Subramanian, Alison Shames
November 20, 2017
Publication
West Virginia is confronting the opioid epidemic and related deaths by expanding access to a range of treatment options, including all forms of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to eligible people in its criminal justice system

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

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...

Blog Post
  • Vedan  Anthony-North
    Vedan Anthony-North
  • Leah  Pope
    Leah Pope
August 11, 2017
Blog Post
The importance of harm reduction strategies, such as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and naloxone distribution, have been shown to reduce the negative consequences of drug use, including social isolation, incarceration, overdose, and death.
The Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) acted on the growing evidence supporting medication-assisted treatment or MAT and launched a new screening and treatment model in its jails and prisons.