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Friday, January 1, 2016

Ross County Amnesty for Witnesses of Drug Overdoses

“Heroin has lost its stigma as a poisonous, back-alley drug. There’s no psychological barrier anymore that stops a young person or an older person from taking heroin. There’s no typical [heroin user]. It has permeated every segment of society in Ohio.”

-- Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, "60 Minutes" Interview

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental deaths in Ohio. The heroin epidemic has hit Southern Ohio a deadly blow. Ross County is reeling -- in December alone Ross County has seen more than 30 overdoses, and records show in 2015 nearly 40 residents have died in the county.

“Heroin has now invaded every section of our community here, from common pleas court to municipal court,” said Sherri Rutherford, Chillicothe’s law director.

And, although Ross County is among areas with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in the state  when accounting for population and age, officials there are taking major steps to stop the carnage. They have decided to battle heroin overdoses with amnesty; not for drug dealers, but for anyone who calls for help for a user who overdoses.

The Overdose Amnesty Program was established over the last few months by Prosecutor Matthew Schmidt’s office, the County Sheriff’s Office, the Chillicothe Police Department and other area law enforcement agencies. The police started carrying and administering Narcan six weeks ago, and the Sheriff’s Office began three weeks ago.

The program applies to witnesses of drug overdoses who call for help, reports the Chillicothe Gazette.

“Heroin is not worth dying over,” said Schmidt. “Law enforcement officials in this county would rather see addicts get help, than get arrested. We would rather see lives saved, than lives lost.”

Emergency callers can ask for amnesty on misdemeanor drug charges, such as drug possession, possession of drug abuse instruments, permitting drug abuse and drug paraphernalia charges. Drug traffickers will not be eligible for amnesty.

("Southern Ohio county offers amnesty to witnesses of drug overdoses."
Associated Press. Toledo Blade. January 01, 2016.)

“This is not for drug dealers,” Schmidt said. “You won’t be able to avoid charges”

The amnesty program will also not let people avoid parole or probation violations, bond violations or Drug Court sanctions. Schmidt said.

The law reads ...

“… any person who witnesses another person overdosing, or believes that they themselves are overdosing, and calls for emergency assistance without delay, may request amnesty. That person will be granted amnesty from prosecution for possession of drugs, possessing drug instruments, permitting drug abuse and drug paraphernalia for any drugs in their possession or being used upon the premises during the occurrence of the overdose.”

(Rick Reitzel. "Ross Co. starts amnesty program for drug users who call in an overdose." Columbus. December 31, 2015.)

Sheriff George Lavender believes the law allows quicker access for those administering help and faster treatment for those in need. The caller who witnesses an OD does not have stay at the scene.

“The appropriate thing is to get help on the way and to be quite frank with you, the assistance we have seen provided by fellow users is normally a negative thing,” said Schmidt.


“In the last six weeks we have saved nine lives by administering Narcan,” said Chief Keith Washburn.

So-called “Good Samaritan” laws already exist in 34 other states, including Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Ohio lawmakers are considering a similar measure, currently being heard in the House Judiciary Committee.

We all know the cliché "Desperate times call for desperate measures." I believe it applies. If you want to read about an even more novel approach to fighting heroin, check out what Gloucester, Maine is doing. The Associated Press reports ...

"Gloucester is taking a novel approach to the war on drugs, making the police station a first stop for addicts on the road to recovery.

"Under a policy launched in June, heroin and opioid addicts who voluntarily turn themselves in at the station are fast-tracked into treatment services through a team of police officers, volunteers and trained clinicians.

"They aren't charged with a crime, and much of their treatment cost is covered through public and private insurance, grants by service providers and by police using money seized from drug dealers.

"They can even hand over drugs and drug paraphernalia to police, no questions asked."

(Philip Marcelo. "Addict amnesty: Police give heroin addicts support, rehab."
ABC. August 14m 2015.)

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