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Ohio may force people who fail drug test to go to jail or treatment

Local state Rep. Niraj Antani is pushing a bill that would require people on parole or probation who test positive for illegal opioids be jailed or sent to a 30-day residential drug treatment program.

Antani, a Miamisburg Republican, said drug treatment expenses would be borne by the offender — not the government. Taxpayers foot the bill for jail costs, which average about $65 a day per inmate. House Bill 457 does not include additional funding for jails or drug treatment programs.

Related: Prisons’ high cost fuels search for alternatives in Ohio

Data isn’t available on how many parolees or offenders on probation fail drug tests for opiates on an annual basis. There are roughly 240,000 Ohioans on probation — a large portion of them for drug offenses.

Related: Why are so many Ohioans in prison? 

Antani acknowledges that his measure would put people struggling with addiction into jails.

“But our primary concern has to be the safety of our citizens. I’d rather have jails a little bit more crowded than more people dead of overdoses,” he said. Antani added that he disagrees with those who say America cannot arrest its way out of the drug crisis. “If we arrested every drug dealer and trafficker, it would make a difference.”

Local man died after testing positive for opioids

The bill was inspired by the overdose death of Scottie Childers in January 2017 at the age of 31.

The father of five daughters had been caught in a spiral of drug addiction, jail, treatment and relapses for four years, said his mother, Linda Chambers of Medway. “He was a good person. He was a good father and he worked hard and had a nice home. And he lost it all,” she said. As a condition of probation, Childers was required to take drug tests.

He failed one on Jan. 27 but his Montgomery County probation officer elected not to revoke his probation and send him to jail.

“Would he have died tomorrow or next week or next year, we don’t know. But he wouldn’t have died four hours later (if he had been sent to jail,)” Chambers said.

Chambers said jail is a safe place for people struggling with addiction, until treatment be arranged. “I know you can’t keep them in there. You can’t arrest the problem away. There needs to be more treatment.”

What the opposition says

ACLU of Ohio lobbyist Gary Daniels warns that Antani’s bill won’t solve problems but it will exacerbate many existing issues.

“There is wide, bipartisan recognition this is not a problem we can convict and incarcerate our way out of. Advocates for the ‘lock them up’ approach have had four decades to prove its effectiveness. Yet, the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has been and remains an absolute failure using any objective standards,” Daniels said in an email.

Jails don’t have the capacity to lock up people who might be affected by such legislation and the demand for drug treatment exceeds supply, he said.

Lori Criss, chief executive of the Ohio Council of Behavioral Health and Family Services Providers, said Ohioans need access to immediate services and long-term drug treatment.

Criss said Antani’s solution would keep people from immediately accessing opiates and could kick start recovery. But, she said, it may create more problems: further overload jails, eliminate the discretion to find the best response to someone’s addiction crisis, give false hope to family members, and treat opioid addictions differently than addictions to other drugs such as cocaine or alcohol.

“It may just delay relapse,” she said. “Addiction is a chronic disease and requires a long-term plan that incorporates a variety of physical, psychological and social strategies for success.”

Even after a year of treatment, relapse rates are more than 60 percent and after three years of recovery support, the relapse rate is 34 percent, she said.

Warren County Sheriff Larry Sims, a member of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission, said jails by default are detox centers for Ohioans gripped by addiction. “We are stuck with that now. We’re stuck with the addiction problems,” he said.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster, introduced a bill last month that calls for increasing penalties for felony drug trafficking of heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and other schedule I & II drugs. Wiggam said the bill is supported by prosecutors and law enforcement organizations.

Chambers agrees that stiffer penalties for drug dealers are needed. “It’s wiping out 100 people a day. That’s just crazy numbers. I hate that other people are feeling the pain that I’m feeling right now.”

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