PWUD Experiences of Criminal Justice Reform: Enduring Tensions Between Policing and Harm Reduction in Baltimore, MD

Katherine H.A. Footer, Glenna J. Urquhart, Bradley Silberzahn, Saba Rouhani, Noelle P. Weicker, Jill Owczarzak, Ju Nyeong Park, Miles Morris, Susan G. Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper we explore people who use drugs (PWUD) perceptions and experiences of drug-related law enforcement in a major U.S. city. Maryland recently implemented several harm reduction policies/interventions aiming to improve PWUD-police relationships, such as the Good Samaritan Law (GSL), intended to avoid criminalizing police encounters with PWUD in cases of overdose. PWUD, though most impacted by these efforts, are seldom included in the decision making process. Data collection occurred in Baltimore City, a majority-Black city with a history of structural racism, where high overdose fatalities necessitate collaborative interventions, but where over-policing and abusive practices have generated widespread community mistrust of police. Between October 2018 and December 2019, we conducted in-depth interviews with 20 PWUD in Baltimore City to understand their perspectives of policing and its impact on harm reduction practices (specifically willingness to seek overdose assistance) in the context of the GSL. PWUD reported ongoing police mistrust, which impacted their harm reduction practices and experiences of laws such as the GSL. Results question whether police, as first responders to overdose, can ever avoid criminalizing the encounter. Findings intend to guide future public health-law enforcement collaboration efforts in the context of the current de-policing debate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)176-189
Number of pages14
JournalContemporary Drug Problems
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • Good Samaritan Law
  • PWUD
  • harm reduction
  • overdose
  • policing
  • policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Law


Dive into the research topics of 'PWUD Experiences of Criminal Justice Reform: Enduring Tensions Between Policing and Harm Reduction in Baltimore, MD'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this