ACLU asks Washington Court house to stop charging overdose victims with crimes

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WASHINGTON COURT HOUSE, OH (WCMH) – The ACLU is asking a central Ohio city to stop charging people who overdose with a criminal offense.

In February, Washington Court House police began charging people with inducing panic if they need to be revived with naloxone.

Inducing panic is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine.

Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent the city a letter, demanding that the city cut it out.

It has come to our attention that the City of Washington Court House has begun charging individuals with a violation of Ohio’s Inducing Panic statute’ if they are treated by EMS for overdosing on opioid drugs. The City must immediately discontinue this practice, which is not only an unlawful application of the Inducing Panic statute, but is also a counterproductive approach to the problem of drug use in your City.

The letter says at least 12 people have been charged with inducing panic as a result of the policy.

Your practice places friends, family, and neighbors in the difficult situation of choosing between lifesaving treatment for their loved one while exposing them to criminal prosecution, or not calling medical providers and seeking alternative treatments or simply hoping the overdose is not fatal. This only exacerbates the dangers of the very drug use the City is attempting to prevent. Punishing those who experience an overdose also shifts the burden of rehabilitation from the healthcare system-which is designed and equipped to treat addiction issues-to the criminal justice system-which is much less effective and much more expensive.

The ACLU argues that if receiving police or EMS assistance could be said to cause criminal harm, then every time an officer responded to anything other than a traffic investigation, someone could be charged with inducing panic.

Washington Court House police said earlier this month that they started charging overdose victims with inducing panic as a way to better track the overdose epidemic in the city.

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