Ohio Sheriff Refuses To Let Deputies Carry Narcan

By Keri Blakinger 07/10/17

The sheriff says the safety of his officers is the reason behind his controversial and irresponsible decision.

Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones
Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones Photo via YouTube

An Ohio sheriff is sparking some pushback after he publicly vowed to never let his deputies carry the overdose antidote Narcan.

“They never carried it,” Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones told a Cincinnati Enquirer columnist earlier this month. “Nor will they. That’s my stance.”

The reason, he said, is safety. Jones claimed it was out of concern for his deputies—who might have to deal with an unhappy and violent person reacting to the effect of the life-saving drug—that he’s never stocked his patrol units with Narcan since his election more than a decade ago.

“We don’t do the shots for bee stings, we don’t inject diabetic people with insulin,” Sheriff Jones told the Washington Post. “I'm not the one that decides if people live or die. They decide that when they stick that needle in their arm.”

Those comments brought sharp rebuke, some from fellow law enforcement. "Here we are in the United States of America and we are having a debate about who should live and who should die," Chief Tom Synan in nearby Newtown told the Ohio paper. "Our number one priority is to be saving lives—no matter what. Ask any cop, most of the time you are responding to a call it is because someone made a poor choice."

And Daniel Raymond, deputy director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, disputed the notion that recently revived overdose victims are likely to be violent. “I think he’s maybe working from old information or some stereotypes,” he told the Post. “But if anyone is equipped to handle someone who's agitated, it's the police. If I was one of his deputies, I'd almost be insulted.”

This isn’t the first time Butler County has made waves for its unforgiving attitude toward people who use heroin. 

Dan Picard, a council member in Middletown, last month proposed implementing a three-strikes policy for overdose victims. “It’s not a proposal to solve the drug problem,” he said at the time. “My proposal is in regard to the financial survivability of our city. If we’re spending $2 million this year and $4 million next year and $6 million after that, we’re in trouble.” 

The plan would involve issuing a summons and require community service for a first overdose. But the third overdose would net a different response—or no response. 

“When we get a call, the dispatcher will ask who is the person who has overdosed,” Picard said. “And if it's someone who has already been provided services twice, we'll advise them that we're not going to provide further services—and we will not send out an ambulance.”

The city manager later clarified in a blog post that Middletown is still dispensing Narcan where appropriate.

Despite Picard’s claim, it may seem hard to believe that the city is apt to lose its “financial survivability” as a result of a growing number of overdoses. But the numbers in Middletown—and in other cities in Rust Belt states hardest hit by the ongoing opioid epidemic—are alarming.

So far this year, the city’s paramedics have seen a 300% increase in overdose runs over this time last year. Statewide, opioid-related death toll rocketed up 775% over a 12-year period, according to the state health department.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.