An online petition with more than 6,400 supporters asks Springfield leaders to criminally charge people who receive medical attention after a drug overdose.
However people who are revived after an overdose and seek addiction treatment are protected by Ohio’s Good Samaritan law — which Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson said prevents police from pressing drug charges in those situations to help them seek treatment.
The Change.org petition, created by Springfield resident Justin Harvey, says if people who are charged with drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana while driving are charged, heroin abusers should also face charges. It’s addressed to Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland and had more than 6,400 signatures as of late last week.
“Why have I seen a neighbor overdose, get Narcan and be back at his house the same day?” Harvey’s petition says. “If you use heroin, overdose and emergency medical has to respond, you should face criminal charges even if it’s mandatory drug counseling, losing your license or similar consequences for other illegal substances.”
Local law enforcement are charging people who overdose and also commit other crimes when applicable, such as OVI or child endangering, Wilson said.
“They’re doing everything they can within the law to get these folks into the system,” he said.
The law was designed to encourage people to call for help during an overdose rather than allow others to die in their presence because they feared going to jail.
“The people in Columbus probably had good intentions but they’re just not in touch with what’s going on in the streets,” Wilson said. “The reality is that the only way that these opiate abusers get treatment is through court intervention, through the fear of going to jail and having a court make them go.”
Clark County residents who overdose on opioids currently do face drug possession charges if they don’t seek treatment after they’ve been revived by medics, according to a new policy from the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office.
The policy enacted in March will educate people who overdose on the requirements to qualify for immunity as part of the 9-1-1 Good Samaritan Law. Gov. John Kasich signed the law in September of 2016.
Law enforcement agencies have since been handing out a card to people who overdose outlining the Good Samaritan law — including a formal request that they must seek help within 30 days, Wilson said. If they don’t seek treatment, the prosecutor’s office will pursue drug possession charges.
Police will forward case materials to the prosecutor’s office, who will keep the file for 30 days until a person can provide proof of treatment. The Good Samaritan Law doesn’t apply to people who overdose three times, meaning those people can be charged immediately.
Approximately 30 people have qualified for immunity under the law, Wilson said, but less than six have completed a referral assessment. The remainder of those people may face charges in the future, he said.
Harvey, a south side Springfield resident, watched his neighbor overdose and saw the person back at their home later that night.
“I don’t think that’s right,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything else treated the way it is.”
If a person overdoses, it should come with a criminal charge, Harvey said, even if that just leads to mandated rehab.
“I don’t believe in Good Samaritan laws,” he said.
Wilson believes that the only thing that forces people to seek treatment consistently is court intervention and jail time. It doesn’t mean a user needs to go to prison, he said, or face a long sentence.
“You need the teeth of court and a potential jail sentence, and still it doesn’t work sometimes,” he said.
It’s unclear if the city has the authority to bypass the state law, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said. He will lean on local experts to educate him on the issue, he said. He doesn’t have a final opinion about what’s best to do moving forward.
“I understand the motivation and I agree that we want to get as many as possible into treatment, instead of constantly saving them from death,” Copeland said. “I just don’t know what the best way to do that is.”
Harvey initially hoped to get 1,000 signatures, he said. He was surprised it reached more than 6,000 in five days, Harvey said. Once he reaches 10,000 names, he plans to deliver the petition to Springfield City Hall.
“I did it mainly to raise the discussion,” Harvey said. “Something has to be changed whether it’s jail time or losing their license. Treatment would be the best option, but that costs somewhere.”
The opioid epidemic doesn’t seem to be discussed in Springfield like it needs to be, he said.
“I knew it would offend some people and I knew some people would agree, but unless you talk about stuff, it doesn’t change,” Harvey said.
SPRINGFIELD’S DRUG WAR
By the numbers
86: Unconfirmed, suspected drug deaths so far this year, a record number
66: Confirmed drug deaths in 2017
800: Estimated number of drug overdoses in Clark County this year, the majority attributed to heroin and fentanyl
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about opioid and heroin problems in Clark County in the past five years, including stories about multiple overdoses in one weekend and efforts to expand treatment options. This year, the News-Sun will take a deep dive into the community’s drug epidemic and what local leaders are doing to solve the problem.