Ohio Police Chief Speaks Out In Favor Of Charging Overdose Survivors

By Paul Gaita 03/31/17

The police chief believes that the cycle of reviving overdose survivors is a drain on law enforcement.

Handcuffed man being escorted by a policeman.

In response to a wave of opioid overdoses in his town, another police chief in Ohio wants to cite individuals who require intervention and rescue by emergency responders with criminal charges.

Rodney Muterspaw, who serves as police chief of Middletown, Ohio, said that the cycle of reviving overdose survivors who continue to use drugs and—in some cases—overdose again, is a drain on law enforcement. Muterspaw believes that charging them with inducing panic will serve as both a deterrent and a means of getting them into treatment.

Muterspaw's decision echoes policy that is being considered elsewhere in Ohio, like Clark County. It's already in place in Washington Court House, a city located 60 miles east of Middletown, which generated criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union over perceived issues of rights violations.

So far this year, more than 180 people have been arrested on drug charges in Middletown. Muterspaw cites recent incidents—like a group of arrests on March 9, where three people were charged hours apart for drug possession at the same McDonald's restaurant—as the impetus for his hardline approach.

"They're getting a free pass," said the police chief. "The squad arrives on the scene, takes them to the emergency room, they live and they come out and do it again."

Muterspaw would like to charge individuals in such cases with inducing panic, but unlike Washington Court House Police Chief Brian Hottinger, Middletown police would drop the charges if the person enters treatment. "Jailing drug addicts isn't the answer," he explained to the Journal-News. "Time to hold people more accountable. We have to force them into treatment."

Muterspaw's approach is echoed in part by Richard Jones, sheriff of Butler County, where Middletown is located. "These people are not afraid of death," he said. "The fear of jail will mean nothing to them."

Butler County's jail population is already burdened, and Jones believes that early prevention could reap more rewards than incarceration. "I don't need to fill the jail up with heroin users and people who smoke pot," said the sheriff. "It won't work. People get out of my jail and shoot up in the parking lot."

Law enforcement officials in nearby Clark County are also considering criminal charges for drug overdose victims. Prosecutor Andy Wilson met with other officials mid-March to come up with a strategy to deal with rising overdoses in their region, which have exceeded 300 since the start of 2017.

"We've got to do something to force these folks into treatment," said Wilson. "You have people who are signing out against medical advice from the ER and they’re back within a day, two days or three days and they’re overdosing again. We can’t keep doing the same thing with no results."

Muterspaw is also meeting with community leaders about more effective ways to rein in the number of repeat "offenders." The overall feeling he's gotten from residents and law enforcement alike is frustration. "It's like Groundhog Day around here," he said.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.