The nation’s opiate crisis has hit Ohio particularly hard, and state officials are scrambling to find an adequate solution. In 2005, almost 15,000 Americans died of opiate overdoses, and 500 of them were from Ohio. In 2015, the national death toll increased to 33,000, with Ohio accounting for 2,700 victims.
Incredibly, the overdose fatalities have kept increasing. 2016 saw a 36% increase in Ohio’s overdose-related deaths, with the death toll reaching 4,149. The crisis has reached such epic proportions that some Ohio morgues can no longer accommodate the influx of bodies and are now storing cadavers in air-conditioned tractor-trailers.
Some Ohio Counties Are Charging Overdose Survivors With Crimes
The criminal charges overdose survivors face are meant to break the revolving door between emergency rooms and drug dens. According to Middletown Police chief Rodney Muterspaw, overdose survivors are getting a “free pass” at the expense of taxpayers.
Some Ohio communities, such as Miami County and Washington Court House, are charging overdose survivors with crimes to keep them in the judicial system. The criminal charges are not meant to punish the overdose survivors, but to protect them from further harm. As Washington Court House City Attorney Mark Pitstick puts it, “it gives us the ability to keep an eye on them, to offer them assistance and to know who has overdosed.”
Pitstick has been charging overdose survivors with inducing panic, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. But in Troy, the largest town in Miami county, overdose survivors may get slapped with felony drug charges if the police find them with drugs or paraphernalia. This discredits the argument that the criminal charges are truly in the interest of the survivors. Are felony charges necessary for ensuring follow-up with opiate addicts?
What Are the Alternatives to Criminal Charges for Overdose Survivors?
Criminalizing overdoses may actually increase the fatality rate, making people reluctant to call emergency services when an overdose occurs. Although the person making the call won’t face charges, they may not be willing to condemn their overdosing friend or relative to facing the criminal justice system.
In some counties, people who agree to treatment may avoid formal prosecution, but this option won’t materialize until the overdose survivor has already entered the criminal justice system. Even a few days spent in jail can have a damaging effect on an individual, and the negative effects of detention on addicts can be even stronger. For those who refuse treatment, their lives are likely to keep spiraling downwards as they face fines and extended periods of detention. And these penalties are not going to dissuade them from using drugs again in the future.
As most drug policy experts agree, addiction is a disease. Criminal penalties do little to address the root causes of dependency, and to steer individuals away from destructive habits. Criminalizing overdosing sends a clear message to addicts: the Ohio government still does not take the idea that substance dependency is an illness seriously.
This month, government officials in Ohio started the Opioid Technology Challenge, which will award $8 million dollars in funding to projects that can provide scientific or technological solutions to the opioid crisis. Until the awaited breakthrough occurs, Ohio community leaders are tackling the problem the old-fashioned way. For example, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office has created the Get Recovery Options Working (GROW) initiative, which organizes visits to the homes of victims within one week of their overdose, and attempts to convince them to get substance abuse treatment.
A Cincinnati Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
If you or a family member has been arrested and charged with a crime as a result of an overdose, a Cincinnati drug lawyer can help. It is possible that the prosecutor will agree to drop or reduce the charges if you or your relative agrees to substance abuse treatment. For more information, call Luftman, Heck & Associates today at (513) 338-1890 for a free and confidential case consultation.