As Ohio communities seek relief from the opioid crisis, some are testing a controversial approach to address high rates of drug overdoses.
Discouraged by overdose survivors who cycle in and out of emergency departments, officials in Miami County, Ohio—including its largest city of Troy—upped the ante in August when police began citing OD survivors with inducing panic.
According to Capt. Joe Long of the Troy Police Department, OD survivors may receive a felony charge if they are found with drugs or paraphernalia. Those who aren’t found with these items will only receive a first-degree misdemeanor of inducing panic.
“It has a little bit more teeth,” said Long, according to the Dayton Daily News. “It gives us, the courts, a little more latitude in what we can do with people as far as penalties.”
According to the Daily News, Miami County saw 25 drug deaths in the first six months of 2017—a much higher rate than the 20 total drug deaths in all of 2016.
But perhaps the tide is turning. According to a local coroner, the number of drug deaths in Miami County slowed in July and August—good news considering that the number of both fatal and non-fatal ODs rose in the first part of 2017.
Long says he doesn’t know how many people have been cited so far under the new policy.
This approach is also being tried in other Ohio communities in response to rising drug overdoses. In February, Washington Court House (a town between Columbus and Cincinnati) began directing police to charge OD survivors with misdemeanor crime, a possible $1,000 fine, and up to 180 days in jail.
Washington Court House officials claimed that charging OD survivors with inducing panic will actually help them in the long run, by allowing authorities to “keep an eye on them, to offer them assistance and to know who has overdosed,” according to City Attorney Mark Pitsick, who put a compassionate bent on the otherwise iffy policy.
Critics like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argues that criminalizing drug users is far from good policy.
“They’re getting a free pass," said Rodney Muterspaw, a Middletown police chief who saw nothing wrong with citing OD survivors. "The squad car arrives on the scene, takes them to the emergency room, they live and they come out and do it again.”
The police chief added that the charges would be dropped if the individual enters treatment for their drug use.
Apparently, Middletown has since put the policy in action. In June, the Dayton Daily News reported that a man who had overdosed and made headlines for falling unconscious onto active train tracks was charged with disorderly conduct and inducing panic after being revived with Narcan.