Washington Court House, OH — As if struggling to beat opioid addiction weren’t challenging enough, being revived from an overdose in one Ohio town could now earn the victim criminal charges.
In February, Washington Court House Police Chief Brian Hottinger toldNBC4, his department began citing anyone whom emergency services must revive using naloxone (name brand, Narcan) with inducing panic.
At least seven people have been charged with this first-degree misdemeanor since the change, and now must face a $1,000 fine and — alarmingly for those already battling addiction — up to six months in county jail.
Officials claim the switch occurred as the latest attempt to quash a widespread opioid epidemic gripping Ohio and the entire nation — but the situation has spiraled so far out of control, Washington Court House’s plan mostly seeks to track who has overdosed.
“It gives us the ability to keep an eye on them, to offer them assistance and to know who has overdosed,” City Attorney Mark Pitsick explained to ABC6. “Sometimes we can't even track who has overdosed.”
Southwest Ohio and the surrounding region are experiencing, as other areas, the brunt of the heroin and opioid epidemic, leaving authorities scrambling to determine how to best help civilians and stem the supply.
“We are trying everything we can do. It's an epidemic,” Pitsick asserted.
Hottinger and Pitsick insist charging overdose victims this way will allow officials to offer much-needed help to those whose habits have overtaken their lives — and stuffing people in cages isn’t the goal, but is one option of last resort.
“Service. Follow up. Just them understanding that people do care. We are here to help. We are not here to put them in jail.
“They don't have hope to begin with, but [by] helping them we hope we are giving them the ability to turn their lives around.”
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Although the epidemic is far from unique to Washington Court House, the frustration expressed by overwhelmed officials isn’t; but the widespread, deadly issue has the simplest of solutions — if only beleaguered police departments and emergency medical providers would make their case to the federal government.
Several viable alternatives to jailing nonviolent drug offenders — particularly people addicted to opiates — have shown undeniable promise in curbing the epidemic.
Repealing cannabis prohibition — implemented and sustained for purely political reasons — could virtually solve America’s sordid obsession with heroin and painkillers. Weed not only fails to act as the ‘gateway’ drug U.S. government propaganda has warned us about for decades, but a recent study also found the extraordinary plant can reduce a user’s dependency on, among other things, opiates.
Indeed, decriminalization or legalization as has been attempted in a growing number of nations after Portugal experienced a decade of imperfect success in removing the criminality from all substances — including cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and any drug considered illicit.
Portugal’s prisons veritably emptied of nonviolent drug offenders, the overall violent crime rate slumped, adolescents no longer experiment with substances at the same rate as other Western nations, and — after a brief, expected spike in the revolutionary program’s nascence — the rate of drug use and dependence has lessened dramatically.
Were the U.S. to follow those cues, anyone dependent on opioids would be able to use psilocybin or LSD to break the drug’s chokehold — the government’s own data admits magic mushrooms and acid can reduce opioid dependence.
Of course, any of these options would steal profits from the pockets of pharmaceutical companies which wildly profit from legal drugs like Oxycontin, fentanyl, and more — in short, national decriminalization isn’t likely anytime soon, if ever.
One option working to fight the opioid epidemic that doesn’t require a seismic shift in federal drug policy originally hails from Gloucester, Massachusetts, where heartbroken, now-former Police Chief Leonard Campanello threw the ultimate Hail Mary in 2015.
Sick of the town’s string of deaths from heroin, the frustrated Campanello posted to social media that anyone suffering with drug addiction and dependence should come to the police station — with their remaining supply and needles — and rather than being charged or taken to jail, the department promised to help find an appropriate treatment facility.
To his delight, a number of people took the chief’s offer, even sending the desperate out of state when treatment better fit the individual elsewhere. The drastic switch in policy — and Campanello’s resultant Angel Program — were so efficacious in thwarting the epidemic, it has now been implemented by over 200 police departments around the United States.
Washington Court House officials closely echo Campanello’s helplessness in the face of the monster epidemic — but their plan to charge people as criminals after what must be the lowest point of dependence, overdose, misses the mark.
Our federal government has the power to stifle this problem and rein in opioid dependence — but its fealty to Big Pharma thus far has supplanted any semblance of reason, common sense, and, most of all, compassion.