As the opioid overdose crisis overwhelms emergency responders and law enforcement nationwide, one Ohio lawman is taking an unusual approach to the fight. Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones will not allow his deputies to carry Narcan, a drug which could save the lives of opioid addicts.
Citing safety reasons, Sheriff Jones says first responders are more equipped to handle the situation and usually get to the scene about the same time as officers. Oftentimes, opioid addicts become angry and violent when revived with Narcan, especially when they realize law enforcement is present.
“I don’t do Narcan,” Jones told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “They never carried it. Nor will they. That’s my stance.”
Jones admits his department policy regarding opioid overdose response is different than other sheriff offices. Deputies in nearby Ohio counties Warren, Clermont, and Hamilton all carry Narcan for emergency treatment of an opioid overdose.
“There’s no law that say[s] police officers have to carry Narcan,” Jones told NBC News. “Until there is, we’re not going to use it.”
The Ohio lawman’s divisive stand comes one week after a Middleton, Ohio, city council member suggested emergency services stop responding to opioid addicts who repeatedly overdose. Councilman Dan Picard proposed a “three-strike” policy that would limit the number of times first responders can give life-saving treatment to addicts. He also recommended addicts who overdose perform community service to help pay back the cost of paramedic services.
Even though many addicts almost die from an overdose, most return to abusing the drug. Nick Motu, vice president of the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy, said overdose medication saves lives, yet “sadly, even after surviving near-death overdoses, many will return to using, some will overdose again and too many will be lost.”
The opioid overdose crisis has been especially tough on Ohio. Butler County, outside Cincinnati, had 210 fatal drug overdoses in 2016, and according to recent data, the county expects that number to grow by the end of this year. By comparison, health officials reported less than 24 in 2003.
While the Butler County Sheriff’s Office is keeping Narcan out of the hands of deputies, officials at the state level are also taking action against the opioid crisis in Ohio. In March, Governor John Kasich signed an order that puts a seven-day limit on opioid prescriptions. Additionally, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit against five prescription painkiller manufacturers, charging them with creating a highly addictive opioid product dangerous to Ohioans.
While health experts, law enforcement, and the public officials search for an answer to the opioid overdose crisis, some believe the solution lies with legal marijuana. According to a Newsweek article, a University of California study that examined hospital records from 1997 to 2017 found opioid overdose cases fell 13 percent in states with cannabis legalization laws. Other studies have revealed similar results.
As of December 2016, over 1,200 law enforcement agencies nationwide were using Narcan to treat opioid overdose victims. While the number of officers carrying the overdose-reversing drug continues to increase, many in law enforcement, including Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, still feel administering Narcan is a medical procedure left up to EMTs.
As it takes years of training and experience to become effective at enforcing the law and making proper arrests, is it realistic that a police officer should switch from being a peacekeeper to a medical professional at a moment’s notice? Can legal marijuana be the simple solution to the nation’s opioid overdose crisis?
[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]