What Cops Need to Know about Drug Users to Stay Safe – An Overview

What cops need to know about drug users
What Cops Need to Know about Drug Users to Stay Safe – An Overview
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1Resources
Recorded March 15, 2018
Unit 1Recording: What Cops Need to Know about Drug Users to Stay Safe
Unit 2Webinar Notes: What Cops Need to Know about Drug Users to Stay Safe


Often viewed from a perspective that aims to end the plague that is drugs, authorities try to disturb and destroy the supply chain and putting those who are in the trade and enabling it behind bars. What is often overlooked is how to deal with the drug users whose lives have been ruined.

Drugs affect the users/abusers by altering the functions and chemical composition of their brains. An otherwise normal and balanced human being can end up as if afflicted by a mental disorder. The effects of drugs can make them illogical, unstable, and even violent. Law enforcement officers face these drug users and given the instability of a user/abuser’s rational functions, are putting themselves in danger.

Amy Morgan of the Academy Hour shares to the Justice Clearinghouse an overview and summary of the Drugs, Brain and Behavior course that Dr. John Duncan conducts. Dr. John Duncan holds a Neuroscience Ph.D., is a professor of psychiatry, and a retired Chief Agent for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. Amy, who is a certified trainer on topics surrounding mental health and crisis intervention, discusses on today’s webinar ways that drugs affect the brain, its effects on the behavior of users, and how to approach, interview and arrest drug abusers.


Some of the points Amy touched on this session include:

  • The role of the brain and its primary job to ensure an individual’s survival.
  • The various parts and regions of the brain and how each of these work separately and collaboratively that results to an individual’s consciousness and behavior.
  • How our bodies response to emergency and how these emergency response symptoms are simulated by introducing drugs into our system, thus, confusing the brain.
  • How drugs mimic brain chemicals which either exaggerates or decreases what chemicals usually do and affect behavior.
  • Psychostimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine.
    • The impact of using the substance in daily activities such as distorting focus, attention, learning, and problem-solving.
    • Its severe effects such as delusions, psychosis, violence, and paranoia.
    • How psychostimulants affect the brain by deactivating the prefrontal area of the brain that oversees rationality, activating the amygdala which is in charge of emotions, and blocking dopamine receptors.
    • Common signs to look out for that characterizes psychostimulant use such as restlessness, fast heartbeat, sweating, and insomnia, among others.
  • Opioids as heroin, morphine, and oxycodone.
    • How opioids change the brain chemistry causing slowed down thinking, lowered inhibitions, and suppressed motor skills, among others.
    • The hastened effect of the drug due to being injected directly into the bloodstream.
  • Marijuana and Hallucinogens like LSD and Ecstasy.
    • The effects of such drugs as slower thinking, slower reactions, impaired coordination and decrease of activity in both the frontal lobe and hippocampus.
    • Marijuana as the second most widely used/abused drug in the US next to alcohol.
    • The effects of LSD and Ecstasy that leads to a psychedelic experience, sensory overload, and hallucinations.
    • How withdrawal from hallucinogens is characterized by depression, demotivation, and confusion.
  • Benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax.
    • How these prescription medications end up abused and work much like alcohol.
    • Its effects that include slowing down of brain by blocking cognitive function and limbic areas, and if it reaches the brain stem – death.
    • PCP as one of the strongest and most dangerous Benzodiazepines which causes confusion, paranoia, violence, delirium, and inability to feel and respond to pain.
    • The common street names PCP is known by.
    • How PCP affects the brain by blocking glutamate control, hyperactivating dopamine highway and shutting down pain receptors.
  • Ways to handle and approach drugs users by practicing awareness of the impact of drugs on the abusers’ brain.
  • The importance and ways of preparing one’s self for the possibility of violence when dealing with drug users by maintaining firearms proficiency, learning combat techniques, and constant physical training.
  • PCP and Meth as the two most dangerous drugs because of its effects that incites aggression and disables feelings of pain.
  • The importance of controlling space to your advantage by practicing the 21-foot rule, understanding the various type of spaces, and how each of these can work against and in favor of an individual.
  • De-escalation tactics to prevent physical confrontations.
  • Poll questions aimed to get a sense of the audience’s familiarity and exposure to people suffering the effects of drug abuse.


One of the more unpredictable encounters law enforcement officers face in our society is when they deal with drug-injured or drug-intoxicated people.  These encounters are at a minimum a challenge for communication, but can also turn deadly in a flash.  Knowing what drugs do to the brain, especially how they enhance the probability for violence and irrational behavior, is critical for officer survival.  This course will address that need, first by showing exactly how drugs affect the brain, then showing how this creates a different kind of behavior in which verbal communication is less effective and a propensity toward violence is increased.  Finally, guidelines for safely approaching, interviewing, and arresting drug abusers will be covered.

This webinar is a 1-hour summary overview of an Academy Hour 4-hour course created and taught by Dr. John Duncan, a retired Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics Chief Agent with 27 years of experience in this field, also a PhD professor in psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.

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