Charge or change

Ohio towns try new approach to heroin overdose

By Sarah Sidlow

Quote of the day: “They can either seek help, or they can go to jail.” That was Miamisburg Det. Sgt. Jeff Muncy. And in case you were wondering, the “they” refers to people who survive heroin overdoses.

In 2016, the city of Miamisburg recorded 87 heroin overdoses, 10 of which resulted in death. Tragically, these numbers are common in a number of cities in Ohio, all of which propel the state toward the top of heroin and other drug addiction rankings lists nationwide. Already this year, Miamisburg has recorded 50 overdoses and nine deaths, according to Muncy—and Ohio’s on track to see five times the overdoses of last year.

So, Miamisburg is adopting the tough love approach: charging those who survive a heroin overdose with a punishable offense. Although they started charging overdose survivors with inducing panic last year, misdemeanor charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, child endangerment, and public intoxication are now all on the table, and the punishments include both steep fines and jail time. And after 30 suspected overdoses and six related deaths in 10 days earlier this year, Washington Court House (yes, that’s a real town name) is following suit, also charging overdose survivors with inducing panic.
But law enforcement officers say they aren’t really interested in punishment. Rather, they’re hoping to point addicts in the right direction—away from jail, away from drugs and toward a normal life. That’s because inmates can choose to go to treatment—a choice that would essentially drop their previous charge and funnel them into a treatment program.

Police and other supporters of the plan argue that addiction stops in one of two ways: in treatment or in death. So, why not try everything possible to get more people into treatment?

To many, this new approach is a way to identify and treat addicts that otherwise may fall through the cracks or remain stuck in the cycle of addiction. Richard Confer of Recovery Works Healing says the tool is widely effective, and that not only do addicts recover successfully, but they’re grateful for the second chance.

Yet, there are others who argue this is exactly the wrong approach to a culture of opioid addiction. For one, they say, charging someone with a crime isn’t the best way to make them come out of the shadows to seek help.

They also argue that charging addicts in this way also perpetuates the stereotype of the user as a criminal, rather than a victim. Is it really, truly the individual’s fault he or she is addicted to opioids? For people who view heroin addicts as victims, the new police protocol in Miamisburg equates to a person with heart disease being charged with a misdemeanor for inducing panic after having a heart attack.

Cincinnati has apparently taken an opposite approach to Ohio’s heroin epidemic, by offering immunity to those who turn in their drugs and seek treatment on their own. Jury’s still out on whether people will take up the offer—it can be pretty difficult for users to decide of their own volition to get clean, and people haven’t exactly been knocking down Cincinnati police’s doors in search of treatment.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at



Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Should overdose survivors face criminal charges?



Hate the sin, arrest the sinner

Criminalizing overdoses could save lives

By Tim Walker

Should drug addicts—opioid overdose survivors who’ve had their lives saved by first responders, to be more specific—be charged with a crime? Possession perhaps, or inducing panic? Nonsense? Ridiculous or counter-productive, you might say? Think again.

Some people reading this column may be surprised to find out that survivors of overdoses are not usually arrested or charged by police, but that is indeed the case. Several municipalities in the state of Ohio have recently decided, however, that they’re fed up with the expensive and ongoing drug epidemic in their communities, and they’re starting to treat survivors of opioid overdose with a tough love approach—by charging them with crimes. Yes, yes, and more yes—and it’s about damn time, too.

“And why shouldn’t they be charged?” many in our drug-ravaged state are asking. “These addicts go out and overdose on fentanyl, and the first responders give them eight to 12 doses of Naloxone, revive them, and save their lives; then, they simply run right out and do it again. There’s no accountability, no motivation for the addicts to change their ways or try and get clean.” We’ve all heard these opinions, these stories, and, too often, they’re right on the money.

Times—and the ways we fight addiction—may be changing in our state and others. Now in Miamisburg and in Washington Court House, a person who survives an opioid overdose can be charged with misdemeanor crimes ranging from inducing panic to endangering children or operating a vehicle under the influence. The sweet part of the deal for addicts, though, is that they can almost always have their charges dropped or reduced by the court—as long as they voluntarily agree to enter a rehab program and take the first steps on the long road to overcoming their addiction.

Is this a perfect situation? Not by a long shot. Heroin addicts are notoriously resistant to rehab—local drug addiction specialists to whom I’ve spoken in the past have told me that your average opioid addict will begin at least seven rehab treatment plans before he or she gets clean. And, health professionals who work with addicts insist that criminalizing the drug abuser is not the answer—they insist that addiction is a brain disease and that by threatening the addict with jail time, you’re simply reinforcing the stereotype of the gutter-dwelling dope addict, a criminal who will stop at nothing to get the next fix. All of this talk of courts and jail time is not the way to approach the drug problem, they say.

I’m a lifelong, bleeding-heart liberal, and regular readers of the Dayton City Paper’s Debate Forum may be surprised to hear me take this position, but I absolutely applaud this move on the part of Miamisburg and Washington Court House—I applaud it loud and long, and I’d like to see other municipalities follow suit. Our state is in a crisis, and our communities are reeling in the grip of a plague, a plague of opioid addiction that is ravaging our families, our courts, and our homes. This disease is eating away at the very soul of our nation, and it must be combatted in new and creative ways if we have any chance of stopping it.

I understand that many members of our local healthcare community feel that charging addicts with crimes and then giving them the option to enter treatment or go to jail is the wrong approach. I argue that it really isn’t all that different from a traditional intervention—all you are doing is trying to force the addict’s hand, trying to create the feeling that she or he has hit rock bottom and needs to find a way to change behavior before winding up in the morgue.

This is not an ideal situation, granted, and we find ourselves in the midst of a drug epidemic for which there is no one perfect solution. But I honestly believe that this move on the part of Miamisburg and Washington Court House is a step in the right direction. If an addicted citizens refuse to enter rehab on their own, if they refuse to take steps and seek treatment for the disease of addiction that is controlling their lives and their behavior, then we as a community must be willing to use whatever pressure is necessary in order to get these poor souls the help that they so desperately need. And if those individuals continue to refuse to seek treatment, if they choose to continue to be a danger to law-abiding individuals in their homes and in their city, then jail may be the only alternative. Jail, rehab, or the morgue—for overdose survivors, these may be the very real choices they face. Let’s hope the majority make the right choice and begin the journey toward recovery.


Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach him at



Lost souls

Charges won’t stifle the scourge of opioid addiction

By David H. Landon

Last week, the children of 36-year-old Brian Halye and 34-year-old Courtney Halye woke up to find their parents unresponsive at their home in Centerville, Ohio. Unable to awaken their parents, the four children called 911. Upon arrival, the police and paramedics found the couple dead in their bedroom, surrounded with drug paraphernalia. While the Montgomery County Coroner is awaiting the final lab reports, it released that the deaths were probably caused by an accidental drug overdose. The family was no stranger to the ravages of drug addiction, as Courtney’s first husband died in 2007 from a heroin overdose. The tragic deaths of this middle-class Centerville couple clearly show that the heroin epidemic knows no socio-economic boundaries. Heroin use is now prevalent throughout society. And even more frightening is the use of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which are oftentimes more powerful than heroin and appear to have caused the deaths of this Centerville couple.

Fentanyl is an opioid painkiller similar to, but more powerful than, morphine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, which include fentanyl, increased by 80 percent from 2013 to 2014, and roughly 5,500 people died from overdoses involving these drugs in 2014.

Fentanyl is currently the most powerful opioid available for use in medical treatment. Doctors say it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The current trend is to mix fentanyl with street-sold heroin and cocaine. The fentanyl markedly amplifies not only their potency but also potential dangers. Even for illicit drug dealers, it’s a bizarre business model when the product sold kills so many customers.

The progression of the heroin crisis in Ohio, at least, can be traced to strong interdiction by law enforcement to the prescription pill abuse that was so prevalent just a few years ago. The over-prescription of oxycodone and similar opioids left a trail of addicts across Ohio. Scioto County was especially hard hit. The Ohio State Board of Pharmacy reported 8.2 million doses were legally dispensed to Scioto County residents in 2011. This is double the per capita rate dispensed in Cuyahoga County (Greater Cleveland). Scioto County, which has less than 79,000 residents, had the highest overdose death rate (26.0) per 100,000 from 2006–2010. During the past six years, authorities cracked down on the “pill mills,” which were so freely handing out these powerful drugs that, as a result, the oxycodone crisis has subsided.

Unfortunately, fighting the drug crisis is like playing a game of whack-a-mole. No sooner do authorities dry up one source of illegal drugs than a new one appears. When oxycodone was taken away, heroin and the synthetic opioids replaced them.

How are authorities dealing with the epidemic? There are some Ohio communities that are attempting to deal with the crisis with enhanced penalties for anyone who overdoses and survives. They charge the individual with inducing panic, a first-degree misdemeanor. Once convicted of the misdemeanor, the court probation department is able to monitor the individual more closely. While they are to be commended for trying to find some response to the ongoing epidemic, I’m not at all sure that the prospect of a conviction for a misdemeanor is any kind of deterrent for someone trapped on heroin. This seems to be an addiction where concern for one’s own welfare is not big on the list of reasons to abstain from opioids.

If you speak with law enforcement officials who deal with this addiction every day, they would tell you that the drive for achieving the desired “high” from opioids is all-controlling. Nationwide, there have been tens of thousands of such overdoses and thousands of deaths. There have been so many cases of overdose that law enforcement officials have started carrying an antidote known as Narcan. Narcan binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, displacing other drugs and reversing the effects of the opioids. Police and first responders have used Narcan to reverse hundreds of overdoses here is the Miami Valley. While in the past departments haven’t tracked whether some people have been reversed multiple times, under the new laws enacted in some communities requiring a misdemeanor charge for inciting panic, law enforcement will now be able to keep such records.

Some police can tell you about individuals who have been revived multiple times. My friend, who is a law enforcement officer, revived an overdose victim with Narcan—and he awoke angry because the effects of Narcan instantly knocked out his “high” and feelings of euphoria. These are lost souls. They risk death to achieve this feeling produced by the drug.

The toughest problem is persuading drug users, their friends, and their family that they will not be arrested if they call 911 to get help for an overdose. In many states, Good Samaritan laws protect people in those medical situations.

Until an addict decides on his or her own to get help and stay clean, it’s unlikely that pressing charges for misdemeanors such as “inducing panic” will serve any purpose.


David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at

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