In a Small Ohio Town, Police Are Charging Overdose Victims with 'Inducing Panic'

[image-1]In Washington Court House, Ohio, situated south of Columbus, police officers are instructed to charge opiate overdose victims with "inducing panic." That is to say: If the overdose doesn't kill you, then you may land a 180-day jail sentence and/or a $1,000 fine if police officers administer the overdose-reversing Narcan.

It's an unusual move from a location deep in the heart of the American opiate crisis. At least seven people have been revived with Narcan and later issued court summonses for inducing panic since the policy began in February. We can't help but point out that their legal summonses order them to appear at the Washington Court House municipal courthouse.

"They don't have hope to begin with, but [by] helping them we hope we are giving them the ability to turn their lives around," city attorney Mark Pitsick told the local ABC outfit.

The idea here is to track opiate addicts, i.e. to identify them and thus be able to connect them with local treatment resources. (People who place the 9-1-1 call in the event of an overdose are not charged with anything — just the person overdosing.)

Taking a longer view, though, this sort of policy works against the spirit of House Bill 110, signed into law last year, which grants immunity to overdose victims from prosecution of minor drug possession offenses. (Even in the state law case, though, immunity is only granted twice per person.) The "inducing panic" charge in Washington Court House skirts the HB 110 language.

Pitsick, again, on the rationale behind the city policy: "Service. Follow up. Just them understanding that people do care. We are here to help. We are not here to put them in jail."

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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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