The Opioid Battle
Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh
The battle to curb opiate overdoses and deaths continues across the country, as efforts increase to address the rise in heroin, fentanyl, and now carfentanil, a synthetic opioid approximately 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl. Last year, the number of unintentional drug overdose deaths in Summit County increased again, sharply driven by a rise in fentanyl-related deaths, according to a new report released by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). In 2015, 1,155 people died from ingesting fentanyl, up from just 84 in 2013. And overall, drug related deaths in Ohio increased from 2,531 in 2014 to 3,050 in 2015. And while numbers for 2016 are still being determined, the problem is getting worse. In just one month, August of 2016, 52 people died of heroin overdoses in Cuyahoga County.
As a law enforcement officer, you will often be the first person on the scene of an overdose. In any overdose situation, it is very important to get EMS to the scene as soon as possible. Opiate overdose deaths can be prevented if naloxone is administered quickly. However, keep in mind that, because of its toxicity, fentanyl overdoses may require more than one dose of naloxone and carfentanil overdoses may require even more naloxone.
Ohio recently passed a “Good Samaritan Law”. The law gives callers to
9-1-1 potential immunity from arrest or prosecution when requesting medical assistance for a person overdosing on heroin, opioids or other drugs. This law prohibits the arrest of certain “qualified” individuals where a 911 call is made for the benefit of someone who is non-responsive due to illegally taking drugs.
A qualified individual must meet one of the following requirements:
- The individual is seeking medical assistance for another who is experiencing an overdose.
- The individual is experiencing an overdose and is seeking medical assistance.
There are other requirements for a qualified person to receive immunity. They cannot currently be on probation or post-release control. They also must have not been granted immunity twice before. The new law requires a person deemed to be eligible for immunity to show proof they have had a meeting with an addiction specialist within 30 days. In Summit County it was determined responding officers would issue the qualified person a summons which contains information about the 30 day deadline as well as contact information for the Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Board. It was also determined that in Summit County, individual city prosecutors will track how and to whom a summons is issued.
In the event you are dispatched to an overdose and are prohibited access to the person overdosing, you should consider whether there is an urgent circumstance that allows you to enter the home. Courts have held that a 9-1-1 call made by a resident requesting emergency assistance at their home while providing some description of the emergency shows there is a basis for believing a person within the house was in need of immediate aid.
It is vital to be aware that carfentanil also poses a significant threat to first responders and law enforcement personnel who may come in contact with it. Carfentanil comes in several forms, including powder, blotter paper, tablets, patch, and spray. Since some forms can be absorbed through the skin or accidentally inhaled, it is important to avoid taking samples or disturbing the substance, without proper safety precautions as this could lead to accidental exposure.
The opiate epidemic continues to present our community with new challenges and new dangers to law enforcement officers and emergency medical personnel. It is important to act quickly and utilize safety protocols when encountering these dangerous drugs.
This article is not to be considered legal advice. Please consult your police legal advisor regarding any legal issue.
Sherri Bevan Walsh
Summit County Prosecuting Attorney