Research Methods in
Research Methods in Criminal Justice
opiate addiction and overdose has become an increasingly prevalent problem over
the past decade (Nargiso, Ballard, & Skeer, 2015). With opiates more widely
available than ever through sources like social media and schools, youth are
increasingly exposed to the risk of overdose (Nargiso et al., 2015). In some
cases, opiate overdose can be fatal.
Although there is
evidence of increased youth opiate usage over the past decade, there remains a
lack of understanding as to how to train police officers to most effectively
respond to such incidents (Miller, Griffin, & Gardner, 2016). Specifically,
there is currently a lack of knowledge in the research or within law
enforcement as to how to identify signs of opiate overdose and to engage in the
most optimal responses to protect
those involved in such cases and also to prevent the widespread distribution of
opiates throughout communities with high populations of youth.
on these gaps in the research, the purpose of the proposed study is to
implement a police officer training and education intervention in order to
increase knowledge and response efficacy pertaining to youth opiate overdose.
Based on a review of the literature and evidence of signs of opiate addiction
and overdose, a systematic framework for responding to opiate usage will be
implemented in a sample of police officers. The following section includes a
review of relevant literature related to youth opiate addiction and overdose.
Variables of interest are then considered, and the hypothesis is outlined.
United States has experienced an epidemic in terms of opiate addiction over the
past 10 years (Degenhardt et al., 2014). Due to a massive increase in
accessibility to opiate based medications and a growing black market for these
drugs, the nation’s youth population has become more exposed to opiates in
locations like schools and through social media (Nargiso et al., 2015). As a
result, the risk of opiate addiction has risen in the nation’s youth (Nargiso
et al., 2015).
There is a fairly large
and growing body of evidence pertaining to risk factors for youth opiate
addiction (Frank et al., 2015; Miller et al., 2016). For example, research has
shown that previous history of drug use and socioeconomic status both predict
opiate usage in youth populations and particularly in those who are involved in
street gangs (Mitra, Wood, Nguyen, Kerr, & DeBeck, 2015). Furthermore,
there is an increasing body of evidence regarding treatments for opiate
addictions in both adult and youth populations (Saloner, Feder, & Krawczyk,
2017). A combination of psychiatric and medical intervention is typically
required to manage opiate addiction longitudinally because of its psychological
and physical withdrawal symptoms (Miller et al., 2016).
However, while evidence
has growth with regards to the prevalence of opiate addiction in youth and its
treatment, there is little research on officer training programs, knowledge, or
experiences with responding to opiate overdose in youth populations. In fact,
no known studies have specifically explored the strategies and steps needed to
engage in effective and time-efficient responses in the case of youth opiate
overdose from a law enforcement standpoint. In most cases, police officers are
the first to respond to substance overdoses and are responsible for engaging in
immediate strategies to protect the victim and also to subsequently proceed
with legal aspects of the case. Law enforcement officers play critical roles in
identifying signs and symptoms of an overdose and also understanding the
channels through which opiates are accessed by youth populations in order to
prevent dissemination of these drugs and further risk of addictions and
and peer-reviewed interventions of police officer training programs are needed
in order to understand how to best respond to youth opiate overdose and also to
prevent this problem in communities with high youth populations longitudinally.
Unpublished qualitative evidence has shown that police officer knowledge and
understanding of youth opiate addiction is limited and that education and
training is needed in order to provide these professionals with the skills and
training needed to most effectively respond. In addition to training with respect
to signs and symptoms of overdose, police officers require further education as
to immediate medical response, appropriate referrals, and case follow up
strategies in order to proceed with legal aspects of the case if there are
criminal charges involved.
Evidence from an
intervention designed to improve the knowledge and skills of police officers
with respect to youth opiate overdose may benefit researchers, practitioners,
and policymakers alike. Researchers would benefit from such evidence due to the
lack of previous studies having addressed this subject and the insight that
would be provided regarding an increasingly prevalent social and criminal
issue. Practitioners in the field of law enforcement would benefit from such
evidence based on the revelation of potential strategies for training police
officers to reduce response times and to be more proactive in prevention
efforts involving opiate addiction. Finally, policymakers may benefit from
evidence of an intervention designed to improve knowledge and skills of police
officers responsible for responding to youth opiate overdose by implementing
widespread reform in existing guidance and also instilling a specific set of
guidelines that officers can adhere to when called in for such episodes.
Statement and Theoretical Assumption
Problem Statement: The
interest is youth opiate addiction and the lack of knowledge and training of
effective responses in the case of youth opiate overdose.
Theory: Police officer training specific to youth opiate
addiction and overdose will improve knowledge and skills pertaining to overdose
response in police officers. The research question to be addressed in the
proposed study is, “Can specialized training, including signs, symptoms, and
emergency response strategies, improve police officers’ knowledge and efficacy
in regards to youth opiate overdose?”
The dependent variable is the knowledge and
skills regarding youth opiate overdose.
The independent variable is police officer
It is hypothesized that an educational and skills
training intervention will lead to significantly greater improvements in
knowledge and response regarding youth opiate overdose.
Youth opiate overdose knowledge will be assessed through
an examination based on course materials presented throughout the intervention
and scored by the primary investigator. Emergency response skills will be
measured based on a subjective evaluation of a simulated response and scored
subjectively by a team of three evaluators, including the primary investigator
and two senior law enforcement officers trained in addiction and overdose
population of interest in the proposed study will include law enforcement
officers in the United States who are tasked with responding to incidents or
cases of youth opiate overdose. There are estimated to be slightly more than
one million law enforcement officers in the United States. However, the exact
number called upon to manage cases of youth opiate overdose is unknown and
likely to vary considerably by location. The exploratory and novel nature of
the research topic precludes the ability to accurately obtain a random sample
of officers who face cases of youth opiate overdose.
Instead, an opportunity
sample will be obtained for the purpose of the intervention. Two separate local
law enforcement agencies will be contacted and at least 10 age- and gender-matched
officers from each agency will be solicited for participation in the
investigation. One agency will be randomly allocated to the intervention group
and another will be placed in the no-treatment control group. Both groups will
undergo baseline and post-study assessment for knowledge and skills related to
youth opiate overdose response. However, just the treatment group will receive
the educational intervention.
Although this study
utilizes a non-probability sampling strategy, the novelty of this research
topic is believed to warrant the use of such an approach in order to ensure
that the participants who are recruited match the strict inclusion criteria.
These include being a currently employed law enforcement officer in the United
States, over the age of 18, and having had previous experience in responding to
youth opiate overdose. All other potentially available law enforcement officers
who have not had prior experience with such incidents were excluded from
recruitment. The resulting sample will include 20 law enforcement officers that
are matched based on age and gender and who are randomly allocated to a
treatment or intervention group based on clusters, which will consist of the
agency at which they are employed.
research design is derived from evidence gathered in the literature review
(i.e., Degenhardt et al., 2014; Frank et al., 2015;
Mitra, Wood, Nguyen, Kerry, & DeBeck, 2015; Nargiso, Ballard, & Skeer,
2015; Miller, Griffin, & Gardner, 2016; Saloner, Feder, & Krawczyk, 2017).
A quantitative, quasi-experimental intervention design will be used in the
proposed study. The study is quantitative because objective, numerical data
indicating officers’ knowledge of youth opiate overdose and skills in
responding to such incidents will be obtained prior to, and following, the
study period. The study is quasi-experimental because true random sampling is
not used and there is no placebo condition. Instead, an opportunity sample will
be obtained, and cluster random sampling will be used based on the law
enforcement agency in which each officer is employed.
An intervention group
will be compared to a no-treatment control. Figure 1 illustrates the research
design that will be used. Once participants are allocated into their groups
based on cluster random assignment and age and gender matching. Baseline
testing of knowledge and skills related to youth opiate overdose will then
occur, consisting of a quantitative instrument battery derived from evidence of
youth opiate overdose and best practices from the literature (Degenhardt et al., 2014; Frank et al., 2015; Mitra et al.,
2015; Nargiso et al., 2015; Miller et al., 2016; Saloner et al., 2017).
Each officer will also then undergo a simulated response scenario and judged
for skill demonstration by two law enforcement education instructors, as well
as the primary investigator. The mean score across these three raters will be
used to indicate response skills.
Figure 1. Illustration of intervention
Pretest on DVs Educational Intervention Posttest on DVs
Cluster Random Assignment and Age/Gender Matching
Control Pretest on DVs Posttest on DVs
will be collected during two periods, including Time 1 and Time 3 (see Fig. 1).
Primary data will consist of knowledge and education of youth opiate overdose
response best practices and skill demonstration. The former will be assessed
through a novel instrument battery designed for the purposes of this study.
Findings and conclusions drawn from evidence in the literature regarding youth
opiate overdose antecedents and symptoms, as well as best practices for law
enforcement response, will be used to generate items for the survey (Degenhardt
et al., 2014; Frank et al., 2015; Mitra et al., 2015; Nargiso et al., 2015;
Miller et al., 2016; Saloner et al., 2017).
All survey responses will be based on a five-point
Likert scale, in which participants are asked to indicate the level to which
they are asked to indicate the degree to which they agree or disagree with certain
statements pertaining to youth opiate overdose and best practices for law
enforcement response. In addition, each officer will undergo a 10-minute
simulated youth opiate overdose scenario and required to demonstrate skill in
adhering to best response strategies. Scoring will be done by two law
enforcement educators and the primary investigator and ratings will be based on
factors like response time, interaction with victim and witnesses, referral,
and follow-up. The mean score obtained from the three raters will be used to
indicate skill across each of these dimensions.
During the intervention phase, the treatment group will
undergo a four-week training and education program led by the primary
investigator and two law enforcement educators. The intervention will consist
of four weekly sessions involving a theoretical component and a practical
segment in which officers practice their newly acquired skills. The control
group will undergo no additional training. Following the intervention phase,
both groups will undergo the same testing as was performed during Time 1 in the
Data analysis will be performed using a between subject’s
analysis of variance to compare changes in pre- to post-test knowledge and
skill with regard to youth opiate overdose response between the treatment and
control groups. An a priori alpha
level of 0.95 will be set and differences will be considered significant if the
probability of statistical error or chance is less than five percent (i.e., p
< 0.05). Relevant post-hoc tests will be performed based on the nature of the data and to determine where individual sources of difference exist between the two groups. Results will be used to draw conclusions about the efficacy of an educational and skills training program for law enforcement officers tasked with responding to youth opiate overdose. Consideration The novelty of this research subject and instrument battery may limit the construct validity of this study. Additionally, this study may be limited in external validity and generalizability to the broader population of law enforcement officers because of the non-probability sample. However, this study is exploratory in nature and it is hoped that findings lead to future research that expands upon some of the design restrictions of the current investigation. The use of three raters during the skills assessment and mean score will be done to increase the reliability of this subjective assessment. Despite these considerations, findings from this study may be useful in improving upon existing knowledge and skills of law enforcement officers who are tasked with responding to cases of youth opiate overdose. These results may lead to future research on the subject that addresses issues of validity and generalizability. Additionally, findings may lead to policy reform designed to enhance the knowledge and skills of officers throughout the country. References Degenhardt, L., Charlson, F., Mathers, B., Hall, W. D., Flaxman, A. D., Johns, N., & Vos, T. (2014). The global epidemiology and burden of opioid dependence: results from the global burden of disease 2010 study. Addiction, 109(8), 1320-1333. Frank, D., Mateu-Gelabert, P., Guarino, H., Bennett, A., Wendel, T., Jessell, L., & Teper, A. (2015). High risk and little knowledge: overdose experiences and knowledge among young adult nonmedical prescription opioid users. International Journal of Drug Policy, 26(1), 84-91. Miller, J. M., Griffin, O. H., & Gardner, C. M. (2016). Opiate treatment in the criminal justice system: a review of crimesolutions. gov evidence rated programs. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 41(1), 70-82. Mitra, G., Wood, E., Nguyen, P., Kerr, T., & DeBeck, K. (2015). Drug use patterns predict risk of non-fatal overdose among street-involved youth in a Canadian setting. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 153, 135-139. Nargiso, J. E., Ballard, E. L., & Skeer, M. R. (2015). A systematic review of risk and protective factors associated with nonmedical use of prescription drugs among youth in the United States: a social ecological perspective. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 76(1), 5-20. Saloner, B., Feder, K. A., & Krawczyk, N. (2017). Closing the medication-assisted treatment gap for youth with opioid use disorder. Journal of the American Medical Association: Pediatrics, 171(8), 729-731.