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Overdose Survivors Charged With "Inducing Panic" In Washington Court House

Washington Court House Police

While many Ohio municipalities are working to decriminalize opioid addiction, the city of Washington Court House in Fayette County has a different - and more dramatic - approach.

When someone overdoses from opioids and is revived with the antidote naloxone, Washington Court House police have been instructed to charge the survivor with "inducing a panic." That's a misdemeanor offense, which can mean a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. 

"We decided to use 'inducing panic' out of frustration," says Lieutenant John Long of the Washington Court House police.

Long says that, in the past, when officers responded to suspected overdoses, they would collect drugs or drug paraphernalia to file criminal charges.

Now, he says, police often comes across victims with no drugs or paraphernalia in sight, which makes it harder to charge them. 

"We felt it was important to have a consequence to these actions," Long says, "and to get the victim of the overdose into the court system and on the radar, in the hopes that at some point obtaining necessary treatment for them."

The program went into effect February 17. Since then, the department has charged six people with inducing a panic.

Ohio as a state is moving away from punishing overdose victims and opioid users, opting for alternative treatment options. Lawmakers enacted a "good samaritan" law in 2016 that provides immunity to bystanders who call 911 for an overdose.

Washington Court House also stands in contrast to other Ohio police departments like that of Marion, whose police chief told his officers to stop charging people who overdosed in an attempt to save lives. 

"I'd be interested to know what kind of rate of success they have," Long says. "Certainly I'm not professing that our approach is the be-all, end-all, but I think it's important to hold overdose victims accountable. 

"And because of that accountability, maybe they realize that the path that they're heading down is not the right path."