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.

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.