The Opioid Crisis Complicates Modern Policing

Opioids are now the leading external cause of preventable death in the United States, according to the most recent report from the National Safety Council (NSC). A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July, 2018 found that people who use opioids are 13 times more likely to be involved with law enforcement. This creates obvious (and worsening) challenges to modern policing practices.

Opioids: the “Everyday Killer”

More than 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. report having used prescription opioids (either legally or illegally). As of 2017 (the most recent year for which final figures are available), more than 130 people died of an opioid overdose each day–Americans now have a 1 on 96 chance of dying this way. They’re more likely to be killed by opioids than car accidents or guns.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have determined that overall U.S. life expectancy declined over the past several years specifically because of an increase in drug overdoses and suicide. Some studies have likewise found an increase in the number of children and adolescents dying from opioid poisoning. As Maureen Vogel, spokeswoman for the National Safety Council, told CNN early this year:

“Too many people still believe the opioid crisis is abstract and will not impact them. Many still do not see it as a major threat to them or their family. These data show the gravity of the crisis. We have known for some time that opioid overdose is an everyday killer, and these odds illustrate that in a very jarring way.”

In order to address this trend–with its clear negative impact on American life and increasing demands on law enforcement–FAAC Inc. has implemented more, and more complex, crisis, mental health, and substance-related simulation scenarios into their flagship MILO immersion training solutions.

Training Police to Control Opioid-Driven Interactions

Research has shown that, in the majority of cases, opioid-related arrests are not for violent crimes. Even as the severity of someone’s opioid dependence increases, the severity of their crime does not.

As Rob McCue, FAAC’s MILO Range Training Systems General Manager, points out:

“These should be relatively minor issues. Many people who have an opioid problem are funding that through theft, and it’s often pretty minor thefts: They break into a car, steal a phone or laptop. But these interactions with law enforcement officers, they can escalate quickly. That’s why our simulation scenarios always include an escalation component and a deescalation branch. Because you never know when someone is going to pull out a knife or do something that is dangerous to an officer or a bystander. Officers need to be prepared for that, not just intellectually and tactically, but emotionally.”

Good, immersive simulation solutions do this. They give officers the opportunity to practice identifying pre-assaultive indicators from other signs of distress or agitation. This naturally is going to include some repetitive training in the use-of-force. But what’s more important is to give officers the practice they need in all of the “soft skills”, thereby affording officers the opportunity to work through every opportunity to safely navigate these tricky (and increasingly common) situations.