SIDNEY — Narcan, the opioid antidote, and its use is a highly charged topic of discussion in the community right now. The public has strong opinions about if and how the antidote should be used and what should be done about the nation’s epidemic opioid drug problem.
Law enforcement officers are regularly questioned about Narcan. So, as a method to facilitate dialogue, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office posted on their Facebook page an anonymous letter they recently received containing several common community concerns about the epidemic, Monday.
Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart said he felt posting the letter would be a good way to encourage dialogue and for affected family members to get answers. He expressed feeling an obligation to the family members of the innocent victims of car crashes involving drivers under the influence.
“Every place I go people ask the same questions: why taxpayers have to pay for Narcan, why are (users) not arrested right away, and why give Narcan? We are not in the position to play God of who survives or dies. We have to provide Narcan,” Lenhart said. “But I understand the other side of this. … Lots of folks ask these questions. That’s the reason for the dialogue. I think (people affected) deserve answers.”
The posted letter was received on the same day as the specified recent crash on County Road 25A outside of Anna. The crash should serve as a “wake-up call,” the letter said. The letter noted Narcan is not the solution, and is actually making the problem worse. Addicts are using it as an “excuse” knowing they will be “saved,” the letter said. It questioned why addicts are allowed “back out on the streets” to repeatedly use and save the user’s life “only so they can take the lives of good hard working families?” The letter also asked why users are not prosecuted, or forced into rehabilitation, and why taxpayers are having to paying for it.
The letter sternly calls for change, for taxpayers to quit having to pay for users actions and concludes with a direct plea to Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart, “a respected man in the community” to do “what is right.”
Along with the letter, the Sheriff’s Office Facebook post also asks for public input on the topic. The responses poured in. As of Thursday afternoon, there were over 640 likes, 356 shares and 337 comments on the post.
The Facebook responses are overwhelmingly in favor of Narcan recipients being held accountable in some form, whether financially, through prosecution or community service, and also rehabilitation. Comments and opinions vary across the spectrum on the subject. Some people feel there should be a limit to the number of doses administered; some feel Narcan should no more longer be offered at all. Others feel it should be recognized as a disease, in which the denial of Narcan should not be an option. Some people reminded of the fact that the users are people’s family members. Others also expressed concern that first responders should not have to make the decision of whether or not to save a life.
Lenhart said law enforcement dosen’t “make up the rules,” regarding Narcan. It’s important, he said, for deputies to carry Narcan to protect themselves from accidental overdose or as an alternative to administering CPR on an overdosed user who may have an infectious disease. Highly potent opioids like fentanyl or carfentanyl, which are 80 to 100 times stronger than heroin, could be in the air or on inconspicuous surfaces.
Sidney Fire Chief Brad Jones said, “Our EMS perspective for the entire region (of the Greater Miami Valley EMS Council) is the same, we don’t choose who we respond to or who we don’t respond to. We respond and act accordingly within the parameters of our profession and protocols that we operate under. And we don’t judge.”
Jones said when Sidney medics are dispatched to an emergency call, they have any medication they may need in their medical bag. Among various medications included is Naloxone, the generic name for Narcan which Sidney uses. After medics treat a patient, they return the used medical bag to the hospital and are given a newly stocked bag for the next call.
The medical director of Wilson Health’s Emergency Department, Dr. Stephen Roberts, M.D., said Narcan can be purchased by anyone over the counter at a pharmacy or online. When fire departments respond, he said the patient is charged for the medicine administered from the medical bag. If no payment is received, ultimately the hospital will absorb the cost.
Roberts explained the misconception with opioid addiction is that using is a choice. Roberts said once a person uses the drug, their brain is changed. He said it is a disease much like diabetes. The difference, he said, for diabetics compared with an opioid user is that the negative effect is not immediate and they can handle the craving for chocolate cake, for example. Roberts explained the opioid user’s insatiable craving for the drug becomes as strong as other primary needs, such as the need for food and water.
“It’s not a simple solution. This is a multifaceted problem. It’s going to take a lot of input from different groups of people: churches, AA, police, government, etc. People who are addicted are sick. Although society is frustrated, this is not who these people at 10-years-old would have chosen to become,” Roberts said. “This is a life-long, every day problem they must face for the rest of their lives.”
Sidney Police Captain Jerry Tangeman said, “There are many opinions about whether (Narcan) should or should not be used. … Law enforcement officers are duty-bound to set aside personal feelings, tough situations and the unpopular to do what is morally right … (and) cannot and should not be in the business of deciding who lives or dies.”
He said prosecuting and forcing rehabilitation is established by the Ohio Revised Code for enacting of the Good Samaritan Law in late 2016. Users may utilize this law to avoid prosecution twice as long as they provide proof they have enrolled into treatment within 30 days, unless they are on probation or parole.
Lenhart said it’s not an easy solution, but the way to deal with it is through prevention up front, making arrests and getting people treatment while in the courts. He said they will be breaking ground, likely in the spring, for a transitional housing facility for inmates in drug recovery on the property of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. He hopes to create change through the 20-bed facility for residents during the 90-day stay.
“It’s not a simple solution. That’s someone’s son, daughter — child,” Lenhart said. “In 40-plus years (in law enforcement), I’ve never seen a social problem so bad.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.