Research in new report also released today shows how deflection programs reduce stigma and are supported by public safety officials

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) announced the release of the Model Law Enforcement and Other First Responders Deflection Act, a resource for states that encourages the development and use of deflection programs across the country. These programs are needed because first responders, including law enforcement, often do not have good options when encountering people with substance use and/or mental health disorders. In a growing number of states, public safety and public health partnerships “deflect” people with these disorders away from traditional criminal justice programs and connect them to evidence-based treatment, harm reduction, recovery and prevention services. These approaches save lives and reduce the burden on first responders. This state model law would expand access to these programs across the country.

“This week, President Biden made clear that it is a top priority of this Administration to remove barriers to treatment and get more people the help they need. Deflection programs are supported by law enforcement and health care providers because they are cost-effective and save lives,” said Dr. Gupta. “In 2018, there were over 60 million encounters between law enforcement and the public, the majority of which did not end in arrest. Ensuring police have the skills they need to identify early signs of substance use disorder so they can connect more people to care is an important tool in our efforts to address the overdose epidemic. This model law provides states with a framework to expand access to these programs, support data collection to track performance, and better address the needs of communities.”

“With over 1,000 communities now doing deflection and with the continued rapid growth of the field across our country, the release of the Model Law Enforcement and Other First Responder Deflection Act could not have come at a better time for State deflection leaders,” said Jac Charlier, Executive Director of the Police, Treatment, and Community Collaborative (PTACC) and Executive Director of the Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC) Center for Health and Justice. “They will be able to adapt the model law to their own unique situations in their state to start or scale-up deflection initiatives right in their communities. Through the implementation of this model law, deflection promises: earlier, upstream interventions for people with drug and mental health challenges, keeping families and children together, reducing drug use as well as drug-related crime, and decreasing government costs can be made real in any community doing deflection.”

“As I read through the deflection model law, I find myself smiling… and thinking back through the years to the times when other law enforcement, fire/EMS chiefs, and city managers asked me, ‘Why do you do this work?’ or ‘Why do you partner with that social service agency?’  The ‘this’ and ‘that’ was our reaching out to experts who understood the ‘Science of Addiction’ and asking for their help! We asked if they would work alongside police, fire and EMS and educate us on how we make a positive impact on our people and families within our community,” said Dan Meloy, retired Police Chief of Colerain Township, Ohio. “We were seeing too much tragedy and families losing loved ones. And we felt that we were losing our ability to ‘feel’ empathy and compassion for persons suffering from addiction. In 2014, there wasn’t a ‘model’ anything and a search of the internet didn’t offer help. Now, with ONDCP’s release of the Model Deflection Act, it will help Police Chiefs to understand the ‘why’ of deflection. Treatment leaders will not have to learn why it matters to partner with law enforcement and the community alike, and communities will not have to learn the lessons learned through repeated trial and error.”

“This Model Law Enforcement and other First Responder Deflection Act will have a significant and lasting impact on the lives of individuals who are living with mental health and substance use challenges,” said Dr. Rashad Saafir, President and CEO of Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Behavior Health Services and Co-founder and Director of the Westside Community Triage and Wellness Center in Chicago. “Local communities will be able to continue and expand efforts to provide alternatives to incarceration for those who are arrested for social determinant-related crimes (i.e., Shoplifting for food or sleeping in unauthorized places for shelter). This deflection model law will help local community-based providers intervene early and reduce further exposure to trauma caused by law enforcement encounters and spending time in jail. Deflection and connection to treatment will eventually become the rule of the day and impoverished Black and brown communities will be better off as a result.”

“As a person with professional and lived experience in substance use, mental health, and criminal justice, the Model Law Enforcement and Other First Responder Deflection Act is a monumental step in the right direction,” said Dr. Brandee Izquierdo, Executive Director, Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic (SAFE) Project. “We cannot arrest our way out of the challenges our communities face when navigating substance use and mental health. It is going to take each and every one of us – police, treatment, and community partners – truly working together collaboratively to change the tide. By focusing on deflection as a solution-focused approach, we can reduce costs, increase safety, and save lives.”

As detailed in a new report also released today, deflection programs are shown to reduce stigma, provide better services for people with substance use disorder, mental health disorder, or co-occurring disorders, and save lives. They are also widely supported by justice and safety officials. The report entitled, The Stigmatization of Justice-involved Individuals with Substance Use Disorder, from the Legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association in partnership with Rulo Strategies, cites a study conducted by NORC and TASC that highlights how 411 diversion and deflection programs “strengthened relationships among community partners, including first responders, behavioral health providers, and recovery professionals.”

This model law provides a template of suggested legislative provisions that encourage the use and establishment of deflection programs. Specifically, the model law, if fully implemented, would:

  • Authorize law enforcement and other first responders to develop and implement collaborative deflection programs that provide proactive policing to assist individuals who are at risk for future calls for service as well as alternatives for eligible individuals to traditional case processing, involvement in the justice system, and unnecessary admission to emergency departments due to non-life threatening drug use;
  • Offer immediate pathways to treatment, recovery services, housing, medication for addiction treatment, whole family services, and other needed supports, via peer support and case management, for individuals at risk of future law enforcement contact and/or living with substance use disorder, mental health disorder, or co-occurring disorders;
  • Require deflection programs to have certain threshold elements to be eligible to receive grant funding from the state administering agency on criminal justice and;
  • Require agencies establishing deflection programs to develop comprehensive memoranda of understanding in conjunction with, and agreed to by, all deflection program partners.

The research and drafting of the Model Law Enforcement and Other First Responder Deflection Act and the Stigmatization of Justice-involved Individuals with Substance Use Disorders report was funded through ONDCP’s Model Acts Program and authored by its cooperative agreement award recipient, the Legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association (LAPPA).

ONDCP recently announced the release of the Model Syringe Services Program Act, a model law for states to help expand access to syringe services programs (SSPs). In November, ONDCP announced the release of the Model Expanded Access to Emergency Opioid Antagonists Act, a state model law that would help make access to naloxone consistent across the country. Previously through this initiative, states have introduced the Model Overdose Fatality Reviews Teams Act, a LAPPA model law that would establish county-level multidisciplinary overdose fatality review that can be used to identify and respond to overdose deaths; and the Model Overdose Mapping (ODMAP) and Response Act, a LAPPA model law that would establish a system to track overdose incident reporting and improve public health and public safety responses.

Read about additional actions taken by the Biden-Harris Administration to address addiction and the overdose epidemic HERE.


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