Political feasibility of passing non-arrest policies for illicit opioid use and addicition in Massachusetts
Gouveia, Tami Lynn
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Fatal opioid overdoses in Massachusetts, U.S.A. increased by 311% from 2000 to 2019 and claim the lives of nearly 2,000 residents every year. Research suggests that the public is growing critical of traditional punitive approaches to opioid use disorder. In this study, a political feasibility study of passing non-arrest policies for opioid addiction was conducted. Semi-structured interviews with 32 experts from law enforcement, program administration, addiction treatment, policymaking, and policy advocacy were completed. The political feasibility of three policy proposals across six criteria (effect, relevance, support, opposition, enabling factors, and inhibiting factors) was examined. Media and document review augmented and affirmed interview data. Study participants reported a growth in the number of opioid-addicted young adult White residents and a concomitant shift in increased public support for treatment over incarceration. Data suggest that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by limited access to treatment. Study participants caution that strained relationships between people of color and the police could impede the positive effects of non-arrest programs among diverse populations. Results suggest that it may be politically feasible to scale non-arrest programs, but that it is not currently feasible to pass policies that decriminalize drugs or prohibit judges from requiring individuals to remain drug-free as a condition of probation. To ensure that policies benefit diverse populations, lawmakers must invest in treatment programs and pass legislation that accounts for the different relationships that Black and Hispanic residents have with the police.
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