Ohio County Judge Grants Immunity To Anyone Who Turns In Heroin, Drugs That May Cause Overdose

By McCarton Ackerman 09/09/16

The "unprecedented" immunity comes in the wake of a nearby overdose wave that resulted in nearly 300 overdoses in a six-day period.

Ohio County Judge Grants Immunity To Anyone Who Turns In Heroin, Drugs That May Cause Overdose
Judge Robert Ruehlman Photo via WWMT

A judge in Hamilton County, Ohio, is taking a forward-thinking step to address the heroin overdose crisis throughout the Cincinnati area, granting immunity to anyone who turns in heroin or any other dangerous substance.

Common Pleas Court Presiding Judge Robert Ruehlman granted a request for the policy made by Hamilton County Prosector Joe Deters. The drugs can be handed over to any law enforcement agency in the county, no questions asked. The blanket immunity covers anyone who “turns over any substance or combination of substances said person believes may cause the user of said drug to have an overdose.”

Although Deters and Ruehlman agreed that the request was unprecedented for the county, Deters said drastic measures needed to be taken to address the nearly 300 overdoses that occurred throughout the Cincinnati area since Aug. 19.

“We may have family members who find it,” said Deters. “Their child may be an addict, their husband … and this gives them a vehicle to turn it in without fear of prosecution.”

Approximately 174 of the nearly 300 overdoses throughout the Cincinnati area occurred within a six-day period. The local coroner’s office confirmed that carfentanil, commonly used to sedate elephants and with a potency 10,000 times stronger than morphine, was a factor in at least eight of the deaths, according to the Associated Press. Authorities suspect that the tainted batches of heroin wreaking havoc throughout the area have been laced with the substance.

Officials in other states have taken similar measures. In response to a string of more than 16 overdoses in a six-hour span in June throughout New Haven, Connecticut, police in North Haven set up anonymous drop-off boxes for illicit substances. The only thing not allowed to be disposed of in the boxes were intravenous needles.

The cause of the overdoses throughout New Haven and North Haven was a tainted batch of heroin. Some of the overdoses came from users who thought they were using cocaine, but ended up ingesting something completely different. Rick Fontana of the New Haven Emergency Operations Center said at the time that while EMS and fire crews were given extra supplies of Narcan to help combat the issue, the city still had a shortage of the opiate overdose reversal drug.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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