ACADEMIC RESEARCH & PUBLICATIONS
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic took grip of the US 2 decades into an accelerating overdose crisis that caused more than 70 000 deaths in 2019 alone. Front-line health care professionals and officials have sounded the alarm that the social and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic may impede efforts to flatten the overdose curve. However, the state databases tracking overdose mortality often have long lags that stymie timely analysis and response. Emergency medical services (EMS) data provide a novel source of near-real-time information to track epidemiological trends during the COVID-19 pandemic. We leverage a large, national EMS database to characterize emergent trends in overdose mortality fueled by the pandemic.
Abusive and violent policing is an important determinant of health for people who inject drugs (PWID), which has been linked to structural vulnerability. However, further exploration of the intersectional nature of this vulnerability is warranted. California's Central Valley is a largely rural/suburban and politically conservative area, with high rates of injection drug use and overdose mortality, where rates of abusive policing of PWID have not been characterized.
Fueled by misinformation, fentanyl panic has harmed public health through complicating overdose rescue while rationalizing hyper-punitive criminal laws, wasteful expenditures, and proposals to curtail vital access to pain pharmacotherapy. To assess misinformation about health risk from casual contact with fentanyl, we characterize its diffusion and excess visibility in mainstream and social media.
Crisis response in the United States is inefficient, ineffective, and often does more harm than good. Currently, police often lead the response to calls related to homelessness, substance use, mental or behavioral health crises, and other situations that are outside the core crime response mission of law enforcement. But carceral responses fail to solve an ongoing crisis, often resulting in more harm instead. Further, they fail to diagnose the underlying issues and prevent future crises.
Before COVID-19 pandemic, advocates had long urged drug policy reforms based on health, security, civil rights, racial justice, fiscal stewardship, and other considerations. In the United States, such calls went largely unanswered. In response to COVID-19, public health and occupational safety concerns have rapidly transformed some drug policies, along with their enforcement. Almost contemporaneously, nationwide protests against violence and racism by militarized police have highlighted the enduring legacy of the Drug War in fueling carceral systems. Disruption from these historical events provides a once-in-a-century opportunity to reconsider the legal architecture of drug policy and policing–both in the U.S. and elsewhere. Rather than returning to a fundamentally broken and inequitable status quo, we urge envisioning a new drug policy in service to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.