Opiate overdoses are at epidemic levels all across the United States. People of all ages, social backgrounds, religions and races are affected by this issue. State governments have looked into many different ways to conquer the problem and no state has done more than Ohio for their citizens when it comes to protecting and educating them on opiate abuse.
In Lucas County Ohio, the sheriff's department has created a 4 person team that will investigate fatal and nonfatal heroin and prescription painkiller overdoses. The announcement was made by Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp and he describes it as an "initiative aimed at getting people who are addicted to heroin and prescription opiates into treatment programs."
The program began last month and is made up of 4 sheriffs who have been trained on what they can do for people who have overdosed, including finding the correct treatment for their addictions. The squad meets with family members at hospitals in the nonfatal cases and later conducts follow-up interviews at their homes to see if they have had any advances or setbacks since the time of their overdose. The sheriff's are assigned this duty full time and are known as the Addiction Resource Unit. Sheriff Tharp said they will also work with addicts and their families to obtain the correct treatment and counseling for their addictions.
The sheriff partnered with the county prosecutor and coroner, and other law enforcement, fire and emergency departments to combat the escalating opiate epidemic. Sheriff Tharp said authorities found there had been little follow-up in overdose cases in the past because in many instances, fire and police dispatchers didn’t know they were handling 911 calls for overdoses. Because of that, police were not sent to investigate or conduct follow-up interviews.
“This all started by looking at what can we do more that we haven’t done in the past,” he said. “We found out law enforcement was not being dispatched to hospitals in cases of drug overdoses because police and fire dispatchers didn’t know.”
The initiative involved professional health organizations, including Recovery Services Board and Zepf Center for Mental Health. Working with sheriff deputies in the Addiction Resource Unit, the deputies will conduct interviews with nonfatal overdose victims to gather intelligence on who supplied the drugs, needles and any other information that can aid them in prosecuting drug dealers who are fueling this epidemic. All information obtained by the deputies will be forwarded to the Metro Drug Task Force to investigate the dealers and to crack down on the amount of drugs taking the lives in their communities.
Although it has not yet been done in Lucas County, Prosecutor Julia Bates said her office will go after drug dealers and seek indictments on involuntary manslaughter charges for fatal overdoses. Mrs. Bates said the scenes of fatal overdoes in the future will be treated as crime scenes and handled like a murder investigation. The severity of these crimes needs to be treated that way from start to finish. It's great to see a community doing so much to battle the epidemic plaguing our country. I hope to see more towns, cities, and counties following in Ohio's footsteps.