FEATURE: Ohio Opioid Overdose Outrage: One Town's Ugly Effort to Punish Victims

The article was prepared in collaboration with AlterNet.

Ohio is state with a serious opioid problem. It's tied with neighboring Kentucky for the third-highest overdose death rate in the county, and the state Department of Health reports that fatal overdoses, mostly due to opioids, have jumped eight-fold in the past 15, killing more than 3,000 Ohioans in 2015.

In a bid to address the problem, the state passed a 911 Good Samaritan law last year. Such laws, which are also in place in 36 other states, provide limited immunity from prosecution for drug possession offenses for overdose victims and people who seek medical assistance to help them. The idea is to encourage people to seek help for their friends rather than hesitate, perhaps with lethal consequences, out of fear of being busted.

But one Ohio town is getting around the intent of the law by using an unrelated statute to go after overdose victims. If you OD in the city of Washington Court House, you can expect to be charged with -- wait for it -- "inducing panic," which is used for cases that "cause serious public inconvenience or alarm."

In the last two months, Washington Court House police have used the "inducing panic" statute at least a dozen times to charge overdose victims. The charge is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The move has drawn fire from the ACLU of Ohio, which sent a demand letter to city officials urging the city to "immediately end its practice of charging people experiencing a health crisis under this vague and inappropriate criminal statute." The city's "unlawful application of this statute will intensify the dangers of heroin use -- not help to control them," the ACLU argued.

The arrests have also caught the attention of Human Rights Watch, which called them "misguided and counterproductive." The advocacy group added that "increasing penalties for drug use is not the solution to Ohio's opioid crisis" and "what city of Washington Court House should be providing is access to health and harm reduction services, including clean syringes, the overdose reversal medication naloxone, and access to treatment."

But the city isn't heeding those warnings. Instead, in the face of the criticism, the city last week dug in its heels, saying the arrests weren't about punishment, but were a means to help addicts.

"We are not after jail time. We are not after fine money. We are simply looking to get these people some assistance. Obviously they need it, but they are not seeking it willingly upon themselves to get the assistance," said Police Chief Brian Hottinger.

City Manager Joe Denen added that the city is not planning any changes to its policy.

"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," he said.

Or they could just offer them treatment.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Negative view of human beings

The conservatives just have such a negative view of human beings, probably induced by the christian doctrine about human sin and salvation. 

From that base attitude stem bigotry and such an inhuman approach of sick and dependent people. A judging mentality, in line with an old-testamentic and horrible view of a supreme being.

It is to be hoped that mankind finally leaves religion and superstition behind, and comes to a more rational approach of mankind and our problems.

amen to that, brother! but

amen to that, brother! but i'm not gonna hold my breath waiting for it to happen. conservatives tend to be assholes, much like the god many of them worship. the god of the bible and the book of genesis. what that god did to adam and eve in the garden of eden was the first case of entrapment by an authority figure (of course it's a myth, but that's beside the point, especially to sheeple who don't think of it in those terms). think about it: why place an enticing and deadly temptation there, with a rather terse and nonsensical order to resist the temptation, unless this god wanted   an excuse to harshly condemn (eternal damnation is as harsh as can be!) and punish? why would an omnipotent and benevolent god do such a thing? of course, 'he' wouldn't, but hey, that's a role model to conservative christians. their god's an asshole, but they don't see anything wrong with 'him'. they're crazy, like their god. stupid and crazy. it's been this way a very long time, and from my personal experience i don't see it changing any time soon.

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