Brandeis Opioid Policy Research Collaborative and partner awarded grant to continue fentanyl test strip distribution project

The police-based program aims to save lives through distribution of test strip kits and supporting people at risk of opioid overdose

December 21, 2020

The Opioid Policy Research Collaborative within the Institute of Behavioral Health at Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA and its partner, the Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative (PAARI), were awarded a $299,000 grant from the University of Baltimore’s Center for Drug Policy and Prevention (CDPP) to mount a police-based program to save lives through outreach, distribution of fentanyl test strip (FTS) kits, and support to people at risk of opioid overdose.  This project is a continuation of  a successful pilot funded by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Nearly half of all drug overdose deaths in the U.S are associated with the illicitly manufactured fentanyl which is now used alone and found in heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and counterfeit opioid pills. New England is particularly hard-hit by illicit fentanyl, which is highly potent and thus prone to cause accidental overdose. People who use drugs are aware of fentanyl in the drug supply, but they must rely on ineffective methods to detect it, such as smell, taste, color and word of mouth.  One potential solution is the use of fentanyl test strips (FTS).  FTS are simple to use, and involve combining a small amount of a drug with water prior to consumption and observing the test strip result. Research has shown that FTS is a feasible, useful harm reduction tool linked to increased self-efficacy and important safety and drug use behavior changes.

During the project titled, One2One:  Engagement to Recovery Using a Police-led Novel Intervention, PAARI will offer training and support to police officers and community partners who will work with people who use drugs in 12 communities in Massachusetts and Maine. PAARI will provide FTS kits and train police officers and community partners how to distribute the FTS kits and offer referrals, to share information about relevant services, and provide other selected tools to kit recipients.  

Amid COVID-19, people with substance use disorders are more vulnerable than ever, and overdoses are on the rise in many communities. Police efforts to respond to overdoses and provide pathways to treatment and recovery have never been more important. Recognizing police have a front row seat to the opioid epidemic, the Heller School/PAARI team designed One2One to expand the resources of law enforcement agencies nationwide as part of the collection of strategies to create non-arrest pathways to treatment and recovery.  The Heller School will evaluate the program and assist PAARI in developing a training protocol that can be disseminated nationally.

The Brandeis evaluation team includes Mary Jo Larson, PhD’92 (evaluation director), Becca Olson, MPH (research associate) and Traci Green, PhD, MSc (senior advisor). The PAARI executive director is Allie Hunter, who operates police community initiatives across the nation. “Each death from an opioid overdose is a tragedy and is preventable. To intervene effectively requires treating people who use drugs as people, not criminals,” said Larson. “Through the One2One project, PAARI will provide the police with FTS kits and engagement strategies that will save lives and encourage use of health care resources.” The funds are from the federal Combating Opioid Overdose through Community-Level Interdiction (COCCLI) Initiative. This team is one of eight community-based programs across the nation that received awards totaling $1.5 million.

About The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

The Heller School is an internationally renowned research institution and graduate school of social policy located at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. Founded in 1959, Heller offers a doctoral degree in social policy and six master’s degree programs. Heller scholars conduct $19 million a year in sponsored research at 10 research centers and institutes, covering social policy areas such as health policy, disability policy, behavioral health, and child, youth and family policy. Learn more at heller.brandeis.edu.

About PAARI

The Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative (PAARI) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help law enforcement agencies nationwide create non-arrest pathways to treatment and recovery. Founded alongside the groundbreaking Gloucester MA Police Department Angel Initiative in June 2015, PAARI has been a driving force behind this rapidly expanding community policing movement. We provide technical assistance, coaching, grants, and other capacity-building resources to more than 550 police departments in 35 states. We currently work with more than 130 law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts alone. PAARI and our law enforcement partners are working towards a collective vision where non-arrest diversion programs become a standard policing practice across the country, thereby reducing overdose deaths, expanding access to treatment, improving public safety, reducing crime, diverting people away from the criminal justice system, and increasing trust between law enforcement and their communities. Our programs and partners have saved thousands of lives, changed police culture, reshaped the national conversation about the opioid epidemic and have placed over 24,000 people into treatment since its founding in June 2015. Learn more at paariusa.org.

Media Contact

The Heller School welcomes media inquiries on this and all other news items. Email Bethany Romano or call (781) 736-3961.

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