Residents in one Butler County city who overdose on opioids in public should be arrested immediately, according to its police chief.
Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said the number of overdoses in the city delays police response times and sometimes induces panic, especially with more drug overdoses happening in fast-food restaurant bathrooms and retail parking lots.
“It’s like they’re getting a free pass,” he told the Journal-News. “The squad arrives on the scene, takes them to the emergency room, they live and they come out and do it again.”
“When someone overdoses in a store parking lot or a restaurant bathroom, it causes alarm to everyone there,” Muterspaw said. “There is no accountability. Jailing drug addicts isn’t the answer. Time to hold people more accountable. We have to force them into treatment.”
He would like to charge those people with inducing panic, then withdraw the charge if they’re treated for the drug addiction.
Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones agrees with Muterspaw that jail is not the answer for addicts.
“These people are not afraid of death,” Jones said. “The fear of jail will mean nothing to them.”
While the heroin epidemic is a drain on law enforcement and emergency services, charging those who do not get treatment with a misdemeanor is just going to fill up the county jail with more drug addicts, Jones said.
“I don’t have space for all the violent criminals. I don’t need to fill the jail up with heroin users and people who smoke pot,” he said. “It won’t work. People get out of my jail and shoot up in the parking lot. Getting arrested just isn’t something they care about. I call it ‘happy talk.’ It may make people feel better, but it just doesn’t work.”
The sheriff said he believes catching potential users early and teaching them not to use is a better option.
“But there is no cure right now,” Jones said, adding that with enough people dying, the popularity of the drug and it’s abuse will hopefully wane.
Middletown City Manager Doug Adkins estimated as much as 90 percent of public safety services are connected to fighting heroin and that commitment takes away from police officers and firefighters completing other responsibilities.
“It’s eating our public safety services alive,” he said last week during the city’s ninth Heroin Summit.
Elsewhere in Southwest Ohio, residents who overdose on opioids may face drug possession charges if they don’t seek treatment, according to a new policy from the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office.
Prosecutor Andy Wilson and local law enforcement officials met last week to discuss how to combat the opioid epidemic, which has caused city and county EMS crews to respond to more than 325 overdoses this year as of March 6.
“It takes a toll on the system,” he said. “… We’ve got to do something to force these folks into treatment.”
The new policy will educate people who overdose on their requirements for immunity as part of the recently passed Good Samaritan Law.
Gov. John Kasich signed the 9-1-1 Good Samaritan law in September, which provides immunity to people seeking medical assistance for a drug overdose, allowing them to report or seek help without charges.
People who experienced a drug overdose or called for help for another person qualify for immunity under the law — if they seek a screening and received a referral for addiction treatment from a local provider.
Currently people who overdose can walk out of the emergency room with no future requirements for treatment, Wilson said.
“It’s just not working, ” he said. “You have people who are signing out against medical advice from the ER and they’re back within a day, two days or three days and they’re overdosing again … We can’t keep doing the same thing with no results.”
Muterspaw agreed a new option is needed and has started to meet with leaders in neighboring communities to discuss how they’re handling drug overdoses and how to reduce the number of repeat offenders.
“It’s like, ‘Groundhog Day’ around here,”Muterspaw said about the opioid epidemic, which has resulted in 185 arrests so far this year and 800 arrests last year in Middletown.
“We just keep doing the same thing over and over. There is a lot of frustration there,” he said.