Chief: Charges meant to help overdose victims

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio community is endangering drug addicts by criminally charging people revived by an overdose antidote, which could discourage calls for help, the American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday.

The ACLU’s Ohio chapter asked Washington Court House to end the practice, adopted by the city as an effort to fight the addictions epidemic locally.

“Ohio faces a tragic problem in the overdose of heroin and other opioids. But funneling at-risk people into the criminal justice system because they relied upon emergency help during a medical crisis is not the answer,” ACLU legal director Freda Levenson and staff attorney Elizabeth Bonham said in a letter to the city’s law director.

Police in the city of about 14,000 began citing people in February with a misdemeanor charge of inducing panic if responders revive them with naloxone. Washington Court House is about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of the capital city, Columbus.

At the time, Fayette County had experienced 30 suspected overdoses, including six deaths, in a 10-day period.

The misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. People who call 911 and those with victims when help arrives won’t be charged.

Police Chief Brian Hottinger said Tuesday he hadn’t seen the ACLU request. He said it would be reviewed by the city’s law director. The program’s goal isn’t to put people in jail or levy fines but to help them by placing them in the criminal justice system, Hottinger said.

“Then maybe we get them into some treatment, get them into counseling, and get them some help that they need, that they’re obviously not asking for,” he said.

The ACLU also says Washington Court House is misapplying the inducing panic charge, which is meant for people who cause criminal “inconvenience or alarm.”

The group says 12 people have been charged by Washington Court House so far.

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