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Ohio city council member wants 911 to ignore drug overdose calls

by Carter Sherman
Jun 28 2017, 4:10pm

An Ohio city council member has a relatively novel solution to the opioid crisis ravaging his city: Let the most severe addicts fend for themselves.

Dan Picard, who serves on the city council of Middletown, Ohio, first suggested last week that the city implement a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy when it comes to responding to 911 calls for overdoses.

“When we get a call, the [emergency services] dispatcher will ask who is the person who has overdosed,” Picard told the Washington Post on Wednesday. “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.”

Middletown likely won’t implement Picard’s three-strikes suggestion. As Fire Chief Paul Lolli told the Journal-News last week, that would not only break medics’ oath to take care of people in need, it would open up Middletown to massive liability.

Picard, however, is hardly alone in his feelings about people with serious drug addictions. A 2014 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study found that Americans are far more likely to feel negatively toward people with drug addictions than people with mental illness. Most survey respondents believed it was OK to turn away people with drug addictions from employment or housing, and said they didn’t want to work closely with them. Nine in 10 people didn’t want people with drug addictions to marry into their family.

“While drug addiction and mental illness are both chronic, treatable health conditions, the American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition,” study leader Colleen Barry, a professor who teaches health policy and management at Johns Hopkins, said in a statement at the time. “The feeling is that the addict is a bad or weak person, especially because much drug use is illegal.”

Picard argued that arresting people who overdose costs the cash-strapped city money, saying he’d prefer to make them perform community service.

“[Someone using drugs] obviously doesn’t care much about his life,” Picard said, “but he’s expending a lot of resources, and we can’t afford it.”

The opioid crisis is, indeed, costing Middletown a lot of money. In 2016, city emergency services made about 532 runs to treat reported opioid overdoses, the Journal-News found. Just six months into 2017, emergency services have already exceeded that number, and the city is on track this year to spend more than $100,000 on Narcan, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses, City Manager Douglas Adkins revealed in a self-styled online “rant” about Middletown’s opioid problems.

Adkins, however, didn’t suggest ignoring 911 calls for overdoses.

Kristina Canfield, program coordinator for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley collegiate recovery program, says she deals with attitudes like Picard’s all the time.

“It doesn’t make any sense when you put it up against any other disease,” Canfield said. “As far as the three-strikes rule, it’s inhumane. What [are] we gonna do, sit there and watch somebody die…? We would never say that to a cancer patient. We would never say that to a diabetic.”

Picard is reportedly not running for re-election next year.