In 2016, 64,000 Americans died of drug overdose – about two thirds of them linked to opioids. Overdose deaths have risen fivefold since 1999, and the crisis has evolved over the years, with prescription opioids giving way to heroin and illicit fentanyl as the primary drivers of the epidemic.

Law enforcement officers are on the front lines of addressing this nationwide crisis. They are often the first to arrive on the scene of an overdose. They encounter and respond to the consequences of addiction every day. They see the toll the crisis is taking on communities, and they have a critical role to play in influencing how communities address it.

With this in mind, a group of public safety and public health experts recently convened to discuss best practices for police departments responding to the opioid crisis. Together, they developed 10 standards of care to serve as recommendations for law enforcement agencies as they grapple with this crisis. The standards are:

  • Focus on overdose deaths. Just as homicide is the leading indicator for violence, the standard of care for Departments should be to work with public health agencies toward the goal of reducing overdose deaths, using data-driven approaches and rigorous research to drive our strategies and measure effectiveness.

  • Use naloxone. Naloxone saves thousands of lives each year. To reverse otherwise fatal overdoses, the standard of care for Departments should be to equip and train officers in the use of naloxone.

  • Educate on addiction and stigma. As respected and influential voices in their communities, Police Departments and Health Departments should work together to support training and public education on addiction to dispel the stigma on people with substance use disorders. Within Police Departments, the standard of care should be for this training to be part of the naloxone program.

  • Refer to treatment. To save lives from overdose, address opioid addiction, and reduce recidivism, the standard of care should be for Departments to equip, train, and recognize officers for helping people in need to access effective treatment that offers all three FDA-approved medications, including as alternatives to arrest.

  • Advocate for “on demand” treatment access. To save lives from overdose, address opioid addiction, and reduce recidivism, the standard of care should be for Departments to advocate for “on-demand” access, in the community, to addiction treatment that offers all three FDA-approved medications.

  • Advocate for treatment for those who are incarcerated or under community supervision. To save lives from overdose, address opioid addiction, and reduce recidivism, the standard of care should be for Departments to advocate for access to effective treatment that offers all three FDA-approved medications for individuals in jail, in prison, and under community supervision with the appropriate transition to continuing care. 

  • Prevent outbreaks. To reduce HIV and hepatitis outbreaks, protect officer health, and help individuals reach treatment, the standard of care should be for Departments to collaborate with public health and community-based agencies to support well-managed syringe service programs.

  • Consider fentanyl detection. To prevent death due to fentanyl and its analogues, the standard of care should be for Departments to explore efforts with public health and community partners to help individuals detect the presence of fentanyl in their drugs.

  • Explore innovation. The standard of care should be for Departments to explore with their public health, law enforcement and community partners the evidence on the efficacy of supervised consumption spaces to connect people to treatment and reduce overdoses.

  • Support Good Samaritan laws. To facilitate an effective and broad response to the opioid epidemic, the standard of care should be for Departments to work to make sure that Good Samaritan laws are understood and implemented consistent with the spirit and intent of the legislation.

Read more about the standards of care here and here.