Video Surveillance & Physical Security Industry Viewpoints
July 18th, 2023
Author: Lizzi Goldmeier

How Technology is Helping Law Enforcement Combat Rising Drug Abuse

Fighting the Opioid Crisis

It’s estimated that the total cost of drug abuse in the United States is more than $820 billion per year. Furthermore, drug overdoses take the lives of about 72,000 people each year. Yes, there’s an ongoing crisis in the United States, and much of this has recently been driven by increased opioid abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that opioid overdoses kill about 115 people daily, and the American Public Health Association claims that the opioid crisis alone is about an $80 billion burden on the economy.

Fighting drug abuse is a bipartisan issue, and the good news is that both the federal and state governments have allocated additional resources to fighting it. New, state-of-the-art technologies also enable police to investigate drug trade and abuse more efficiently than ever before, helping eliminate key suppliers from the black market. Here’s a look at how technology can help law enforcement fight America’s drug problem:

Handheld Identifiers

While law enforcement is responsible for apprehending drug suppliers and buyers, they must also interact with illicit substances on a regular basis. With fentanyl-containing drugs regularly appearing on the streets, officers need safe, viable means of testing unknown substances in the field. High-tech handheld instruments are being increasingly utilized to safely and conclusively test unknown substances that officers confiscate on drug raids. These instruments not only deliver immediate results — much faster than the several weeks in a testing lab — but they can also help keep officers safe from prolonged exposure to any number of illegal substances. Police Magazine reports that Thermo Fisher Scientific is one of the leading providers of handheld identifiers because of their use of Raman Spectroscopy – laser analysis of molecular structures — which allows officers to scan a chemical without opening the package. This increases officer safety by reducing exposure to the “nasty stuff” that line officers must handle in the field.

Data Mapping

Fighting the opioid crisis isn’t just up to law enforcement. The responsibility is shared by local government, health care centers, first responders, and more. That’s why many municipalities have joined the Opioid Mapping Initiative (OMI). Established in 2017, OMI is “a coalition of 17 local governments, universities, and nonprofits who meet monthly to swap insights, share best practices, and test their theories of change.” When these entities compile their resources, they can map out locations where opioid overdoses are occurring, share stories related to deaths, and put more of a localized, human touch on the national crisis. This learning tool for community members can help show how widespread the crisis is and direct people on where to go for help. Furthermore, mapping initiatives like OMI can also help police intensify surveillance of high activity areas and assist emergency responders with planning the fastest routes to emergency care units from such locations.

Actionable Video Intelligence

Another powerful source of information in drug trade investigations is video data. Law enforcement can leverage existing video surveillance infrastructure to collect and structure data so it can be visualized and analyzed as evidence. The police in Hartford, CT, credit Video Content Analytics technology with helping them identify drug houses. Working off a tip about a street where drug deals were taking place, the police used video analytics to process surveillance footage, visualize the pedestrian traffic hotspots and common paths, and, in a matter of seconds, reveal the house where illegal drugs were being sold. VCA systems turn surveillance into fast, actionable intelligence, and they’re a far more efficient means of identifying and policing drug dealings than sifting through hours or days of recorded video or sending officers on stakeouts.

Regulation and Accountability

Additionally, data analytics are being increasingly used to detect wrongdoing by prescription providers. This is part of the Opioid Fraud Detection Unit initiative, which was introduced by the federal government in 2017, to specifically target opioid-related healthcare fraud. According to the press release from the Department of Justice, data analytics can “tell us important information about prescription opioids—like which physicians are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor’s patients died within 60 days of an opioid prescription; the average age of the patients receiving these prescriptions; pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids; and regional hot spots for opioid issues.” This data is critical for shedding light on these important questions and will ultimately help curb prescription drug abuse.

Supporting Steady Progress

National efforts to curb drug abuse in the United States are ongoing and will take time to post significant results. But with innovative technological solutions, law enforcement is now better equipped to respond to the crisis than ever before.

Interested in seeing how video analytics can identify a drug house in under 2 minutes without law enforcement ever needing to hit the streets? Take a minute and watch, Analytics in Action: Identifying a Drug House