Addictions and the Criminal Justice System, What Happens on the Other Side? Post-traumatic Stress Symptoms and Cortisol Measures in a Police Cohort

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Abstract

The Buffalo Cardio-metabolic Occupational Police Stress study, an occupational cohort study of police officers, was conducted to evaluate physiologic and stress measures in a high-risk occupation where occupational exposure to difficult criminal situations can lead to physiologic and psychological health consequences among those who enforce the law. The chronic exposure to human tragedy may place police officers at special risk for mental health disorders and the potential for misuse of alcohol or drugs. While exact etiologies of post-traumatic stress were not determined by this study, overall post-traumatic stress (PTS) prevalence rates among the police officers was 35%, with 10% of individuals demonstrating severe PTS symptomatology. Waking cortisol measures tended to be higher among officers with more PTS symptomatology, with some gender related differences noted. Given the increase in incarcerations for addictions related offenses over the past 20 years and the chronic exposure to human suffering and tragedy, early recognition of PTS symptoms is essential in making the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress in high-risk occupational cohorts. Providing early entry into treatment and subsequently attempting to eliminate or minimize long-term consequences of post-traumatic stress can have a significant impact on the prevention of long term sequelae of chronic stress, such as the use or misuse of drugs or alcohol.

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