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Heroin Epidemic Causing First Responder's To Change Tactics

James Chavez’ death in 2011 was a wake-up call for the police in Marion, Ohio. Chavez overdosed, and knowing that the Marion Police typically charges people who overdose, Chavez was left face-down in his backyard where he died.

It was until he stood over Chavez’ corpse that Lt. B.J. Gruber decided that the police force needed a new method of arresting the heroin problem. The nation as a whole has been forced to change its approach to the drug problem.

Handcuffs and prison bars are taking a backseat in favor of education and prevention. In ordering his officers to stop charging people who overdosed, a decision purposed towards saving lives, Marion Police Chief Bill Collins fielded a lot of criticisms, not only from the public but from within his own department.

Along with emphasizing that the police would continue to arrest traffickers, Collins also worked to create connections with local leaders, with schools sitting at the center of his plans.

According to Collins, schools are the most important battleground for overcoming the heroin plague, which is why the police force is placing so much emphasis on the “Too Good for Drugs’ Campaign, a ten-week program that teaches children how to resist drugs.

The Marion Police is quickly becoming common place in the district’s schools, availing their time to answer questions and provide support where necessary. Along with exposing them to drug tests, Marion Police’s program also presents staged scenarios that teach students how to overcome peer pressure, this along with educating them about the effects of drugs like heroin.

Along with preparing students for the challenges that drugs present, Marion Police has also fostered a relationship with Marion’s Maryhaven Drug Addiction center, Marion area counseling center and various other organizations that treat and support drug addicts rather than incarcerating them.

Richard Minerd, Chief Deputy with the Franklin County Sheriff’s office, knew that times were changing when he helped arrest a group of prostitutes only for citizens to challenge him on how he would help these women kick their addictions, this rather than how long their prison sentences would be.

This highlighted to Minerd the importance of creating overdose and drug-incident response teams that include nurses and counselors who can help addicts seek treatment and repair their lives.

Right now, Minerd’s biggest challenge is initiating a change in old-headed mindsets and proving to his superiors the importance of changing tactics when dealing with heroin addicts.

For Columbus Fire Lt. George Wallace, the overdose drug naloxone, of which the Columbus Division of Fire bought 4,000 doses last year, has never been more important; this is as opposed to two decades ago when Wallace would hold onto the drug for so long it would expire before it was ever used.

Designed to counter the effects of drug overdoses, hence saving lives, it is quickly becoming the norm for Columbus police to carry Naloxone in their cruisers. Today, places like Ross County are relying on Naloxone to reduce the astronomical numbers of heroin deaths that they have been seeing.

According to Chillicothe Fire Chief Jeff Creed, the campaign to spread Naloxone awareness is only growing stronger with each passing day. The more people know about the efficacy of Naloxone in countering overdoses, the more lives will be saved.

People are now looking at places like Marion to see how the change in tactics is altering the situation on the ground. The health-care system is also transforming on a national level; it isn’t merely places like Marion which have begun to put the lights and sirens aside.

The people in power have begun to realize what so many people learned a long time ago; the only way to save lives is to emphasize treatment and education. Prison sentences are not going to overcome the addiction problem. 

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