Policing and risk of overdose mortality in urban neighborhoods

Amy S.B. Bohnert, Arijit Nandi, Melissa Tracy, Magdalena Cerdá, Kenneth J. Tardiff, David Vlahov, Sandro Galea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Accidental drug overdose is a major cause of mortality among drug users. Fears of police arrest may deter witnesses of drug overdose from calling for medical help and may be a determinant of drug overdose mortality. To our knowledge, no studies have empirically assessed the relation between levels of policing and drug overdose mortality. We hypothesized that levels of police activity, congruent with fears of police arrest, are positively associated with drug overdose mortality. Methods: We assembled cross-sectional time-series data for 74 New York City (NYC) police precincts over the period 1990-1999 using data collected from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of NYC, the NYC Police Department, and the US Census Bureau. Misdemeanor arrest rate-reflecting police activity-was our primary independent variable of interest, and overdose rate our primary dependent variable of interest. Results: The mean overdose rate per 100,000 among police precincts in NYC between 1990 and 1999 was 10.8 (standard deviation = 10.0). In a Bayesian hierarchical model that included random spatial and temporal effects and a space-time interaction, the misdemeanor arrest rate per 1000 was associated with higher overdose mortality (posterior median = 0.003, 95% credible interval = 0.001, 0.005) after adjustment for overall drug use in the precinct and demographic characteristics. Conclusions: Levels of police activity in a precinct are associated with accidental drug overdose mortality. Future research should examine aspects of police-community interactions that contribute to higher overdose mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-68
Number of pages7
JournalDrug and alcohol dependence
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Cocaine
  • Drug use
  • Opiates
  • Overdose
  • Policing
  • Spatial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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