JOURNAL ARTICLE

Law enforcement attitudes toward overdose prevention and response

Traci C Green, Nickolas Zaller, Wilson R Palacios, Sarah E Bowman, Madeline Ray, Robert Heimer, Patricia Case
Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2013 December 1, 133 (2): 677-84
24051061

BACKGROUND: Law enforcement is often the first to respond to medical emergencies in the community, including overdose. Due to the nature of their job, officers have also witnessed first-hand the changing demographic of drug users and devastating effects on their community associated with the epidemic of nonmedical prescription opioid use in the United States. Despite this seminal role, little data exist on law enforcement attitudes toward overdose prevention and response.

METHODS: We conducted key informant interviews as part of a 12-week Rapid Assessment and Response (RAR) process that aimed to better understand and prevent nonmedical prescription opioid use and overdose deaths in locations in Connecticut and Rhode Island experiencing overdose "outbreaks." Interviews with 13 law enforcement officials across three study sites were analyzed to uncover themes on overdose prevention and naloxone.

RESULTS: Findings indicated support for law enforcement involvement in overdose prevention. Hesitancy around naloxone administration by laypersons was evident. Interview themes highlighted officers' feelings of futility and frustration with their current overdose response options, the lack of accessible local drug treatment, the cycle of addiction, and the pervasiveness of easily accessible prescription opioid medications in their communities. Overdose prevention and response, which for some officers included law enforcement-administered naloxone, were viewed as components of community policing and good police-community relations.

CONCLUSION: Emerging trends, such as existing law enforcement medical interventions and Good Samaritan Laws, suggest the need for broader law enforcement engagement around this pressing public health crisis, even in suburban and small town locations, to promote public safety.

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