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ID: 1156

Type of submission: Oral

Conference track: Policy

Topics: Prisons and Detention; Punitive Laws and Law Enforcement

Presenting author: Leo Beletsky

Presenting author biography:

Leo Beletsky is an Assistant Professor of Law and Health Sciences at Northeastern University in Boston and an Adjunct Professor at the Division of Global Public Health at UC San Diego. His focus is on the use of law in improving outcomes on substance use, HIV prevention and criminal justice.

Police Innovations: The Future of Harm Reduction or a Source of Harm?

Leo Beletsky, Dan Werb

There is a growing global movement towards shifting police practices towards public health approaches, especially when it comes to the enforcement of drug market activity. This comes in response to decades of an over-reliance on criminal justice approaches to address drug-related harms, and consequent evidence on both the limits and harms of criminal justice and policing in responding to substance use at the population level.

Novel policing strategies include triage schemes like law enforcement-assisted diversion, police naloxone programs, and “angel” amnesty programs that aim to link drug users to drug treatment or harm reduction services such as supervised injection facilities. Further, the expansion of opioid substitution therapy within carceral environments, as well the ongoing implementation of drug treatment courts has served to effectively establish the criminal justice system as a key source of addiction treatment.

However, despite the prioritization of public health outcomes in such policing strategies, some innovations have often proceeded in absence of theory-driven and trauma-informed foundations. Of concern, without such conceptual grounding, an expansion of the typologies of drug market policing and criminal justice system engagement in the delivery of addiction treatment may serve to further entrench and expand the reach of punitive approaches to substance use at a time of drug policy reform at the regional, national and international level.

As such, assessing innovations in enforcement-based responses to substance use and establishing their impact on access to harm reduction services and criminal justice engagement among people who use drugs, as well as their implications for drug policy reform, is critically needed. This panel/presentation will raise key ethical, resource, and practical considerations that should guide further police innovation in regulating drug and sex markets. Implications for other areas of criminal justice/public health interface, such as in policing sex markets, will be discussed.