New Legislation Addresses Ohio Heroin Pandemic
In Ohio, heroin fatalities increased from about 700 in 2012 to nearly 1,000 in 2013. Heroin is a highly-addictive drug which can be snorted, smoked or injected. State and local officials believe the drug has led to a public health crisis. Of the 2100 Ohio resident deaths in 2013, opiates, including prescription painkillers, were responsible for over 70%.
In recent years, the Ohio legislature has passed laws which allow law enforcement and first responders to render naloxone, the anti-overdose drug, to save the lives of heroin addicts. State statistics show EMS rendered at least 8,400 doses of Narcan in 2015, and that data is not final. According to the Ohio Department of Public Safety, the number may exceed the 15,200 doses administered in 2014.
Currently there is new legislation in the works to help battle the heroin pandemic, as well.
It was discussed at a recent Hamilton County Heroin Task Force meeting that locating heroin dealers could be a lot easier than in the past. The idea is to ask for the voluntary cooperation of the heroin addicts who were saved by naloxone injections.
However, many communities refused to disclose the names of those who have received naloxone due to federal privacy regulations (HIPAA). Therefore, law enforcement was unable to interview those users to determine who the drug suppliers really are, with intent to investigate and potentially prosecute.
However, Sen. William J. Seitz of Ohio’s 8th district researched and discovered that federal law contains an exemption where provided by state law. Thus, he amended a pending bill (House Bill 110) in the Senate which would require those first responders to reveal the names of those whom were rendered naloxone for overdoses.
State representatives Jonathon Dever (R-28th District) and Louis Blessing (R-29th District), meanwhile, have won House passage of yet another bill (HB 171) which decreases the amount of heroin that a dealer can possess to be prosecuted as a major drug offender. This would also increase sentences for those dealers found guilty of these offenses.
Additionally, Rep. Robert Sprague (R-District 83) and Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-District 31) have collaborated to sponsor legislation (HB 249) which would provide prosecution immunity to persons who call 911 to report overdoses, as well as overdose victims. This is intended to encourage those who may be high to call for help if a friend or relative is in danger of a fatal overdose. It protects them from low level use or possession charges if they agree to seek treatment for their addiction.
In addition to saving lives, lawmakers hope that the heroin users help law enforcement identify the dealers who provided the drug. User immunity is only offered twice, however. After that, they may be required to confront the justice system.
The enhanced sentences for drug dealers still sounds to me like an antiquated measure, and something right out of the book of the War on Drugs. Also, I’m all for combatting the heroin pandemic, but I’m not sure about using overdose victims in this manner. They may fear retribution from their dealers and that may be enough to dissuade them from coming forward.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A. Psychology