A pilot program in South Dakota that requires alcohol-linked offenders to abstain from the substance and submit to regular testing and monitoring appears to reduce deaths, according to a new study.

In the 24/7 Sobriety Program, offenders are required to undergo breathalyzer tests twice a day as well as wear alcohol-checking bracelets. Skipping or failing the tests will subject them to jail time, usually a day or two.

Researchers from nonprofit research group RAND Corporation found that the county implementation, which started in 2005, led to a 4 percent county-level reduction in deaths, with the links most evident among deaths from circulatory issues and other alcohol-related diseases.

“Our findings suggest that criminal justice interventions that reduce heavy alcohol consumption may, in turn, influence mortality,” says lead study author and RAND’s senior economist Nancy Nicosia in a statement.

Further research will provide insight into how programs like 24/7 Sobriety also affect the participants’ partners, peers and loved ones, Nicosia adds.

Almost 17,000 people or 3 percent of South Dakota’s adults participated in the program from January 2005 to June 2011. The researchers’ model accounted for factors that could influence death tally, including county demographics, snowfall and the renowned Sturgis Motorcycle Festival motorcycle enthusiasts flock to each August.

Of the participants, nearly half were enrolled after a second DUI offense, while the rest were entered in the program after a first-time DUI offense or charges of domestic violence or assault.

The findings were published on Feb. 9 in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.

An earlier RAND study featured in the American Journal of Public Health discovered that the 24/7 program decreased repeat DUI arrests by 12 percent and domestic violence arrest by 9 percent in the county level.

According to the same research, the program participants produced over 2 million days sans an identified alcohol violation during the first five years of the pilot. The figure shot up to 4.5 million days through 2013.

Co-author and senior policy researcher Beau Kilmer urged a comparison of the program and other drunk-driving interventions to identify the most cost-effective way to reduce death and injuries.

Other U.S. jurisdictions have adopted the program, while the Greater London Authority in the United Kingdom recently implemented a modified version of it.

A randomized clinical trial of a related program held for Hawaii’s drug-involved offenders discovered that regular drug testing – along with quick yet modest sanctions for positive drug test results – significantly decreased drug use and crime. This appeared to echo the plausible benefits of the South Dakota program for booze-involved offenders.

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