Pre-arrest Deflection Program Helps in Fight Against Opioid Addiction, Research Shows

Sept. 14, 2023
SIROW team with holding award for their work

SIROW research team

Credit: Josephine Korchmaros

More treatment for substance misuse, fewer arrests, and decreased costs are the result of a Tucson-based pre-arrest Deflection Program launched by the Tucson Police Department and CODAC Health, Recovery & Wellness, with support from the University of Arizona and Pima County.

TUCSON, Ariz. —The Tucson Police Department, or TPD, and the University of Arizona Southwest Institute for Research on Women published the outcomes of TPD's award-winning pre-arrest Deflection Program, launched on July 1, 2018, in partnership with CODAC Health, Recovery & Wellness.

The findings are summarized in two reports: Feasibility and Acceptability of a Police Pre-Arrest Deflection Program and Costs, Cost Savings, and Effectiveness of a Police-led Pre-arrest Deflection Program.

The Deflection Program resulted in fewer arrests, more treatment for people with substance misuse issues, reduced frequency of illegal drug use and potential costs savings.

“This collaborative effort marks a significant stride in addressing the opioid epidemic and combating substance misuse,” said Josephine Korchmaros, lead researcher and director of the Southwest Institute for Research on Women, or SIROW, in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

The Deflection Program empowers patrol officers with the discretion to "deflect" individuals struggling with substance use problems toward treatment options instead of immediate arrest. This approach encourages individuals to seek treatment, while also providing them with immediate transportation to a designated treatment provider. This initiative includes the Angel Program component, which enables community members to approach TPD officers for assistance in connecting to treatment providers, without the fear of being charged for drug possession or paraphernalia.

SIROW researchers evaluated the effectiveness and outcomes of the program.

The TPD's Deflection Program demonstrated its potential as a more effective alternative to arrest, the findings show. The program resulted in a significant reduction in substance misuse and related criminal activities but also lessened jail overcrowding, over policing and justice-system expenses. The findings showed a potential cost savings of $601,512 in justice system expenses over a three-year period by diverting individuals to treatment providers rather than taking them into custody.

“The results of this study indicate that a police-led program can be used to encourage people who have substance use issues to engage in treatment without overburdening police officers and the justice system,” said Korchmaros. “The program focuses on addressing the immediate community safety need as well as the underlying issue of drug addiction for longer-term decreases in substance abuse and risk of drug overdose.”

In three years, under the Deflection Program, police officers completed 2,129 deflections away from arrest and to substance misuse treatment. In 71% of those incidents, individuals agreed to treatment. These results highlight that police officers and community members used and responded positively to the program.

Police officer interaction with woman wearing a backpack

Credit: Tucson Police Department

“The findings from this evaluation serve to legitimize pre-arrest deflection as a viable alternative to traditional police responses to individuals who suffer from substance use,” said Tucson Police Department Assistant Chief Kevin Hall. “It is a more effective and efficient response in many cases, taking the officer less time than arresting and incarcerating, while at the same time providing a host of benefits for the individual who engaged in treatment. Additionally, the findings illustrate the accuracy with which officers recognize individuals who suffer from substance use disorder and engage them in treatment options.”

Of the 1,503 individuals who agreed to treatment, 45% were immediately driven to a substance misuse treatment provider, with a total of 789 individuals successfully connected to CODAC Health, Recovery & Wellness, the primary partnering provider for the program. This connection emphasizes the program's capacity to bridge the gap between those in need and recovery resources.

"Substance use treatment is the path to healing our communities. We must shift our focus from punishment to connection with compassionate care in nonjudgmental environments,” said Dan Barden, MS, LISAC, chief clinical officer at CODAC Health, Recovery & Wellness. “When people are met with understanding and support, we empower them to break free from the chains of substance misuse and build a positive sense of self they didn’t imagine was possible again. It's about redemption, recovery and the restoration of human dignity."

The success of TPD's Deflection Program not only provides hope for individuals struggling with substance misuse but potentially serves as a model for law enforcement agencies nationwide, Korchmaros said.

“By shifting the focus towards treatment and support, rather than punitive measures, this approach is fostering healthier communities and redefining the landscape of addiction and law enforcement,” Korchmaros said.

The initial implementation and research study of TPD’s Deflection Program, called Unified Medication Assisted Treatment Targeted Engagement Response, or U-MATTER, was partially funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Arnold Ventures provided additional funding to support a more comprehensive research study.


Media contacts

Josephine Korchmaros
University of Arizona

Southwest Institute for Research on Women
(520) 621-3330

Tucson Police Department 
Kevin Hall
Assistant Chief
(520) 837-7722

CODAC Health, Recovery & Wellness 
Kristine Welter Hall
Chief Operating Officer
(520) 260-2771