Should first responders be able to force addicts into treatment? - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Should first responders be able to force addicts into treatment?

Cincinnati fire crews responding to an opioid overdose in August 2016. (FOX19 NOW/file) Cincinnati fire crews responding to an opioid overdose in August 2016. (FOX19 NOW/file)
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

The Hamilton County Heroin Coalition is considering recommending a state law change that would give first responders the power to force addicts into treatment, one of its members said Friday.

Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan said the coalition is in the beginning stages of information gathering as they consider revamping Casey's Law that parents and other loved ones of drug addicts and alcoholics can use to ask a judge to order addiction treatment.

[Related: Video shows boy watch mother shoot heroin]

They also are running a pilot project that will give them an idea how many people could be eligible. The first results are due in September.

"Now in the city of Cincinnati, first responders are walking away from 68 percent of the users because there is not enough probable cause to make an arrest or they refuse to go to the hospital or they refuse treatment," Synan said.

"There is zero ability to intervene. This enhanced Casey's Law would at least introduce them into some kind of care."

The coalition could fund the effort through Medicaid, he said, but they are hoping for more help from state and federal leaders.

Synan has repeatedly said authorities do not have the funding they need to handle the opioid crisis.

He has called on Gov. John Kasich to declare a state of emergency in Ohio and immediately immobilize money and people to try to stop addicts from dying.

Kasich, he said, could release more than $2 billion in tax dollars from the state's so-called "rainy day fund."

Now, Synan also is calling on President Donald Trump to declare a state of emergency - a recommendation the President received earlier this week from his own opiate task force. 

"We need action and if Ohio can't do it or won't do it, we are asking the President and Congress to do it. We know what we need. Treatment has to be expanded and have easier access."

Trump's commission also recommended that he immediately order:

  • Rapidly increasing treatment capacity
  • Enhanced access to medication-assisted treatment
  • Expanded access to Narcan
  • Crackdown on fentanyl and synthetic opioids
  • Educate drug prescribers and increase prescription monitoring

Synan notes that these recommendations are the exact same ones the coalition has been asking for "since Day One."

Earlier this week, the leader of the union that represents Cincinnati police accused politicians of failing to help stop the opioid epidemic.

"Where's the leadership?" Sgt. Dan Hils demanded in an impromptu press conference outside University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

He spoke out after two officers became sick from an unknown substance and were rushed there for treatment. Hils said authorities suspected fentanyl or carfentanil.

The officers were released later that evening, but Hils expressed frustration that the crisis increasingly puts officers at risk.

He said elected officials are worrying more about their political careers than making tough decisions and taking action to lock up dealers and users and to spend the money to do it.

If more users go to jail, they would receive treatment there, he said.

While Synan said he is glad Hils is expressing his frustration and he shares in that, incarceration won't solve the problem.

"Unfortunately in Hamilton County, there is not room in the jail," he said. "The justice center already processes nearly 10,000 people a year in heroin-related incidents. We arrest anywhere from 100 to 120 people a week on average in heroin-related incidents, so we know there is no room in the jail.

"It clogs the jail. It clogs the court system. And we know in the long run we are not getting people off addiction. We are trying to arrest our way out of addiction, which doesn't work."

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