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Police monitor an area of Philadelphia that has become a hub for heroin use. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Police officers are increasingly shifting away from their punitive, law-and-order approach to the opioid epidemic and experimenting with other strategies more commonly used by social workers.

Between the lines: The staggering crisis has radically changed how local police departments operate, with officers on the front lines directing opioid addicts to drug treatment programs and allowing users to turn in drugs instead of arresting them.

By the numbers: In 2016, 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses —about two-thirds of them from heroin, prescription opioids and synthetic opioids, per the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the CDC.

"We can’t arrest our way out of this. It’s just impossible."
— Police Chief Peter Volkmann of Chatham, NY tells Fusion

Where it stands:

  • Virginia state troopers have started carrying Narcan, a drug to revive people from opioid overdoses, joining other police officers from North Carolina to San Diego and Massachusetts.
  • Departments have also created teams such the Post Overdose Response Team in Chillicothe, Ohio, and the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, which is used by 300 agencies in 31 states to connect addicts with treatment and recovery programs.
  • In Columbia County, where Chatham is located, there has reportedly been a 227% increase in opioid-related deaths in the last 10 years. Volkmann runs Chatham Cares 4 U, a program that allows residents struggling with substance abuse to turn in drugs in exchange for medical assistance and rehab.

Flashback: This compassionate move marks a stark contrast with the hardline approach taken in the 1980s and 1990s during the crack-cocaine crisis, which resulted in mass arrests in majority black and Hispanic communities.

Meanwhile, punitive actions are being taken against drug companies through lawsuits filed by numerous states and local governments. The lawsuits claim that drug manufacturers and distributors have improperly marketed opioids or failed to report large suspicious orders.

Go deeper:

The rise of newer, deadlier opioids

America's opioid death rate has soared since 1999

Go deeper

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.