The Springfield Police Division is taking new approach to tackling the area’s opioid epidemic — an officer dedicated to working with people who overdose.
The police division received funding from the Ohio Attorney General’s office for an officer devoted to the drug crisis, as well as a $100,000 grant to develop a response team to assist overdose survivors.
The grants were used to hire the division’s first opiate diversion officer, Officer Meredith Freeman, to work hand-in-hand with treatment specialists to get drug users into treatment. She has been in the position since late October and has been an officer for the past 8½ years.
Freeman applied because she has had more interest in the drug aspects of policing she said and wants to be apart of trying to find the drug dealers and taking the narcotics off the street.
“Dig a little bit deeper see why, learn a little bit more as to why people use,” Freeman said.
She has learned from overdose victims the reason why they use is because of some sort of trauma they’ve experienced. One example, she said, is physical trauma where someone got hurt and started taking prescription pills and then abused them. Another example is someone struggling with the effects of domestic violence they witnessed or experienced as a child.
Clark County saw at least 101 suspected drug overdose deaths as of mid-December, including 90 confirmed and 11 pending autopsies according to Clark County Coroner Dr. Richard Marsh. The majority have been caused by fentanyl, an illegal synthetic opioid that’s 50 times more powerful than heroin.
Of the 101 suspected deaths, 79 happened during the first six months of the year. During that same time period, the Springfield Police Division and Clark County Sheriff’s Office responded to a total of 732 overdoses — nearly 75 percent of the overdoses that year.
Freeman is different from other officers in the division.
“Well one being I don’t wear a uniform and I don’t drive a cruiser. So, I don’t respond to the everyday calls. The domestic violence calls, 911 hang-up calls, the burglaries. I don’t go on those anymore. I go and I assist on them,” she said.
Freeman responds only to overdose calls, including when she is not on duty. She follows up with that person within a week. Also, if a person has been arrested by another officer and shows any sort of interest in getting help, she will speak to them also to let them know what their options are, try to talk to them before they go to jail, she said. If users seek help, they can avoid charges and jail. If they do not she will contact the prosecutor and seek charges.
“When I show up, I’m not there to arrest you. That’s why I wear the plain clothes. That’s why I try to be as normal I guess as you can because I really want people to hear what I am saying and take me up on opportunities I might have for them.”