To identify the proportion of arrested drug misusers with prior contact with treatment services, police surgeons' records were examined over a 12-month period and compared with the records of the local drug misuse services. Both referrals and those who attended with face-to-face contact were noted.
Sixty-seven per cent of drug-related cases had been referred to services prior to arrest and 58% had attended with face-to-face contact on at least one occasion. Homeless and male drug users were more likely to have had no past contact. Police surgeons treated three-quarters of the cases for opiate dependence. Drug misusers were much more likely to have had past contact with services than arrested alcohol misusers, and were more likely to reoffend.
The evidence base for motivational enhancement in the transient coercive setting of police custody is not established, and arrest referral schemes might not be cost-effective in areas where most cases have had previous contact with services. Local research may contribute to more informed decisions about these treatment-related criminal justice initiatives.
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