The opioid epidemic in the United States continues to take lives. It also takes a toll on the resources of hospitals and law enforcement. And now an Ohio Sheriff has forbidden the use of a drug that is commonly given to stop an overdose. The use of Narcan, he feels, is creating more problems than it is solving.
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Richard K. Jones, Sheriff of Butler County, Ohio, told the Cincinnati Enquirer about his new philosophy. “I don’t do Narcan,” Jones told the paper. His deputies “never carried it… nor will they.”
The drug is effective at reviving overdose patients, and Sheriff Jones’s refusal to use it is raising ethical questions. Ohio has more opioid overdoses than any other state in the nation.
This is something Sheriff Jones is well aware of. In 2003, the Ohio Department of Health logged 24 overdose deaths. By 2015, that number had risen to 195. It continues to climb.
Ohio’s staggering epidemic has prompted other figures to propose shocking measures. Middletown city council member Dan Picard wants a three-strike style plan for repeat-overdose cases. The cost of medical treatment would have to be repaid by community service. If an individual doesn’t do the community service, they no longer receive the drugs needed to reverse their overdoses.
“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. We’re going to have to start laying off. We’re going to have to raise taxes,” he explained to The Washington Post.
For Sheriff Jones, the use of Narcan goes beyond simple economics. He notes that opioid and heroin addicts are often violent. An overdose eliminates that violence, but–once revived–the patients can again become violent and may begin vomiting. Jones fear for his officers who have to get that close to potentially hazardous situations. “To get on the ground and spray [Narcan] in their nose is simply dangerous.”
Jones told Fox News that Narcan has “helped revive and save some lives but [did] not bring down the usage of heroin.” He went on to describe heroin parties that had designated Narcan administrators the way some parties may have designated drivers. It is this type of willful endangerment that Jones feels is at the root of the problem.
The question of who is, or who is not responsible for administering Narcan is complicated. Most law enforcement agents are tasked with the duty of saving lives as first responders. Yet this is a criminal matter, too.
The decision to forgo the use of Narcan will, inevitably, result in an increase in overdose deaths. Is that what it will take to end the abuse of the drugs?