Mixed response to overdose 'Good Samaritan Law'

BUCYRUS - A law that gives some clemency to a person who calls 911 after either experiencing or witnessing an overdose has drawn mixed responses from officials in North Central Ohio.

Ohio House Bill 110 — known as the "Good Samaritan Law" — goes into effect Sept. 13 after being passed unanimously last week by Ohio congressmen.

"We wanted to allow people who are with somebody who has overdosed to engage in a life-saving behavior," said state Sen. Dave Burke, R-Marysville.

Burke said people can call 911 without fear of arrest if they possess a small amount of drugs. Law enforcement will help the person who has overdosed, then confiscate any drugs they find at the scene.

People are allowed to claim protection under the law only twice before they are again potentially subject to arrest.

"That person is still open to every other criminal offense," Burke said. "You can't call on somebody who has overdosed while you're transporting a van full of heroin — it doesn't work that way."

Scenarios in which calls are not made to 911 after friends have overdosed are becoming more common, according to Bucyrus police Chief David Koepke. His officers recently saved someone they found overdosing on a front porch.

"The people in the house didn't bother calling. The people didn't want them in the house, so they were outside the house," Koepke said. "Rather than call, they tried to separate themselves from the person overdosing, so they nearly died."

People saved from overdose by officers need help with their addiction, said Crawford County Common Pleas Judge Sean Leuthold.

"Most of my programs, designed to help those who are addicted, stress immediate consequences for a person's actions," Leuthold said. "My program also focuses on taking people who overdose into custody and force them into treatment."

Crawford County Prosecutor Matt Crall thinks the new law will disrupt the system he, Leuthold and others have fine-tuned over the years. The lack of immediacy within the bill is a big concern for Crall.

"Oftentimes they are clinically dead when they get there, and my fear is that they will overdose again before we get them in for treatment," Crall said.

Crall said the new law doesn't force the overdosed person to actually begin treatment — it merely states that they should be referred for treatment. It's also hard to know if they've ever used their immunity.

"There's no arrest record, and there's no court records since they're never going to court," Crall said.

That's not the only gray area within the bill, according to Richland County Sheriff Steve Sheldon. He's concerned that many officers won't know when it's safe to arrest someone.

"It leaves a police officer in a libelous situation that shouldn't be there," Sheldon said. "I'm sure it wasn't the legislature's intent to do that, but if you stop a heroin addict and you're trying to do your job and you arrest them, you could get sued."

Richland County Prosecutor Bambi Couch Page has started training officers within the county on how to act in borderline situations. She tells them that if there's any doubt, don't make an arrest.

"They have to make sure the call falls within the parameters of the bill or not," Couch Page said.

If the officers don't make an arrest, they can ask the prosecutor's office for advice on how to proceed. If the accused wasn't entitled to clemency, justice could still be served.

"We would then tell them to go ahead and arrest, or we will issue an indictment," Couch Page said.

Couch Page thinks "the bill is way too broad" because "it does not define what a drug overdose is or how a drug overdose is to be determined."

The gray areas in the bill have caused Couch Page to be extra cautious when training officers.

"I think there needs to be a few tweaks to the bill," she said.

Regardless of what future changes are made to the law, legislators are confident the bill will help addicts with their recovery.

"If the person dies, they never would have been rehabbed in the first place," Burke said. "The intent of the law is to save lives."


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