Opinions mixed on criminalizing overdose calls

One southwest city is criminally charging drug users if they get naloxone from first responders

Drug Addiction, Heroin, Suicide Generic


AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Communities across Ohio are being hit hard by the heroin epidemic, and one southwest city is criminally charging drug users if they get naloxone from first responders.

With emergency crews going to more overdose calls than ever before and sometimes giving multiple rounds of naloxone to reverse an overdose, Washington Court House in Southwest Ohio is now criminally charging some addicts who get the reversal drug from first responders.

The addicts are not charged for calling 911 but face a misdemeanor inducing panic charge.

The ACLU says criminalizing addiction isn’t the solution and sent a letter to Washington Court House officials asking them to stop, saying that criminalizing drug use doesn’t get at the underlying issue of addiction.

“It is really a public health issue, not a criminal one,” said Elizabeth Bonham, ACLU attorney.

Washington Court House City Manager Joe Denen issued the following statement about the new procedure:

In challenging circumstances, charging some individuals with inducing panic provides the court system with a means of connecting people in need of treatment with treatment opportunities. All viewpoints on the question of heroin addition are appreciated. It’s not logical to shut any door.  Nevertheless, when confronted with the options of trying to help or doing nothing, action would appear to be of greater value to the person in need of help. No desire exists to engage in a confrontation with the ACLU or any organization. The guiding question remains the value of human life and dignity of people.

Braking Point Recovery Center in Austintown has more than 200 patients and is maxed out. Owner Ryan Sheridan is faced with the addiction epidemic every day and agrees with the ACLU that criminalizing overdose calls could send the wrong message.

“You are going to get people just getting dropped off at the E.R. and ambulances never getting called,” Sheridan said.

Sheridan says he doesn’t think people are overdosing more because they know naloxone can reverse the effects.

“Nobody wants to steal, nobody wants to overdose and die. For a normal person to even think it through, you wouldn’t want that and neither would they,” Sheridan said.

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