Improving interactions between people who use drugs and the law

Department news | October 31, 2023

The CLEARS Project (Community-Law Enforcement Aligning in Response to Substance Use), funded through the Washington State Health Care Authority and led by Mandy Owens, PhD, is developing regional solutions to improve interactions between law enforcement professionals and people who use drugs. With project coordination assistance from Rieanna McPhie, an interdisciplinary core team collaborated with three sites across Washington State using a “policy codesign” process to bring together local stakeholders to develop local solutions.

The Clallam site created a video of local people in recovery and one on successful interactions between law enforcement and people use drugs, and pilot tested a six-session officer wellness program focused on cumulative trauma. The Thurston site provides individuals being booked into the local jail with a letter from a peer to spark hope and increase referrals to reentry services. The Yakima site developed and continues to host a community coalition meeting that includes law enforcement, people with lived experience of drug use, service providers and other stakeholders.

Jenna van Draanen, PhD (Co-Investigator, School of Nursing, School of Public Health) and the Research with Expert Advisors on Drug Use (READU) team conducted an evaluation of the codesign process with all participants. Findings showed that participants found the process to be acceptable and a positive experience, and that the facilitation and opportunity to talk to others from diverse perspectives were helpful. Participants provided feedback on future iterations of the project, such as conducting all sessions in-person.

The Washington State Legislature refunded the project for two more years and Dr. Owens and her team will repeat their process in four new sites in Washington State, including Chelan/Douglas, Grant, Kitsap, and Whatcom regions.