Those people who survive drug overdoses can often encounter a number of hardships once they are finally released from the hospital, but one Ohio community is complicating the situation even further by slapping these folks with criminal charges.
In Washington Court House, a small town situated between Cincinnati and Columbus, police have decided to take a more “enforcement” type of approach to people who overdose on opioid medications. Now, anytime emergency responders are forced to revive someone with an overzealous lust for pain pills or heroin, that person will be charged with “inducing panic”—a misdemeanor offense that carries a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and fines reaching $1,000.
City officials believe entering overdose victims into the criminal justice system is the perfect way to keep tabs on the degeneration of the community. Yet, the suits of the system stop short of admitting that their mission is to capitalize on the problem—not offer any real assistance.
“It gives us the ability to keep an eye on them, to offer them assistance, and to know who has overdosed,” said City Attorney Mark Pitsick. “Sometimes we can’t even track who has overdosed.”
Although Pitsick says the city’s latest protocol for dealing with drug overdose victims is part of its mission to help pull these people up from the ashes of opioid addiction—not incarcerate them—the overall scheme is really nothing more than a way for city leaders to criminalize what should be treated as a public health concern.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the concept of addiction being a disease—some people just do not understand how the voluntary act of using drugs can be classified in the same realm as health conditions for which a person has no control. However, a wealth of respected medical associations, including the World Health Organization, have acknowledged that the use of psychoactive substances “can lead to dependence syndrome,” which often comes with “a strong desire to take the drug, difficulties in controlling its use” and “persisting in its use despite harmful consequences.”
The disease factor, much in the same way it works with alcoholism, comes from the reality that no human alive would dare put themselves through a nightmarish shit storm of loss and despair if they weren’t being pulled in that direction by a force for which they have no control.
“If you see somebody who continues to use despite their lives being totally destroyed—losing their jobs, losing loved ones, ending up in jail—nobody would choose that,” Stanford psychiatrist Anna Lembke recently told VOX. “Nobody anywhere would ever choose that life. So clearly it is beyond this individual’s control on some level.”
Nevertheless, Washington Court House has charged seven people since February for “inducing panic,” after they hit rock bottom with an addiction to painkillers.
Some argue that this approach doesn’t get people on the road to recovery—but rather, it stops those who need help from reaching out.
Sadly, while most drug reform advocates argue the need for more treatment as opposed to criminal penalties, some of the latest statistics show that drug rehab is not working.
A recent study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that 67 percent of those people who enter in to treatment for opioid addiction return to dope within a year. Another 43 percent move on to the nod immediately after leaving treatment.
For those who manage to keep their addiction on a leash after rehab, however, experts say they will “have a lifelong vulnerability,” to opioids—something that should be managed with ongoing care.
At this point, it does not appear anyone has the answer.
There is some evidence that legal marijuana could be one solution, but more research is needed to find out exactly how the herb fits into the equation. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry is currently developing “abuse proof” painkillers in an attempt to further capitalize on the opioid epidemic.
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