PIQUA — A new overdose reduction strategy that the Piqua Police Department has introduced has a new goal in mind: holding drug dealers accountable when a person passes away as the result of a drug overdose.
The move comes as another tool to combat the heroin epidemic.
“We recognize the old school ways of doing things is not working with heroin,” Piqua Chief of Police Bruce Jamison said. The “old school” tactics included using a confidential informant to do a certain number of drug buys from a particular target.
“In order to protect that informant, we would wait for months to take a case to grand jury so we wouldn’t expose the informants unnecessarily,” Jamison said. “And also because informants are very hard to come by, so we try to use them with as many different dealers and locations as possible.”
Heroin poses different issues that get in the way of that tactic.
“With heroin, the stuff changes hands very rapidly,” Jamison said. “We would find more and more users making their own trips to other jurisdictions and buying their drugs and then they would overdose here (in Piqua).”
With this new strategy, the Piqua Police Department is looking at the evidence surrounding an drug-poisoning death to work back to who sold the victim the drug in the first place to hold him or her accountable. The evidence they consider includes cell phones, witnesses, social media communication, text messaging, and talking to friends and family members.
“These deaths generally have been people suffering from addiction,” Jamison said. “So we look for social media communication, text messaging, put it together however we can to rebuild that addict’s last few hours and in some cases determine … who sold them those drugs. And we think these traffickers have a huge responsibility for these deaths and want them to be held responsible a little bit more quickly than our old way of putting a trafficking case together.”
This tactic is not new in general and the Piqua Police Department is receiving training from the Attorney General.
“This tactic has been used in other jurisdictions, but we decided we wanted to adopt it here and the Attorney General has offered to help with training and with some of the evidence work that’s necessary for some of these cases, so we want to take advantage of that as well,” Jamison said.
Using the criminal justice system
“This is just a different approach to take – a different perspective to be looking at on any overdose death,” Jamison said. “The fact that drugs are illegal is even just becoming more and more controversial. But the fact is, right now, the main way to deal with it seems to be where most of the money is — in our criminal justice system. So we’re going to continue to use the laws.”
Law enforcement agencies are not simply locking addicts up and throwing away the key, but they are working together with treatment programs to provide help.
“Now what we see is, a lot of the times, we get somebody into the system and then they end up into some treatment and recovery programs and that’s great,” Jamison said. “It’s a much better answer than jails. Because we’ve just seen – there’s too many addicts that go to jail or prison and come out without being in recovery.”
Jamison explained that the Miami County Jail and the Miami County Recovery Council are working together to change that.
“Right now, the main gateway to treatment still seems to be the criminal justice system,” Jamison said. “So we do a little bit to hold the users accountable to get them into the system, but that’s what we call the demand side.” Jamison explained that, with drug use, there is a supply side and a demand side, “just like any economic environment.”
“Even before heroin, no matter what the drug, we didn’t spend a lot of time trying to find everybody that was using the drug and charging them,” Jamison said. “It was just mostly if we come across a situation, we would charge somebody.” Law enforcement has always looked at reducing the supply of drugs. From Jamison’s perspective, that has seen “limited effectiveness no matter what the drug was.”
The hope is, with this new strategy, to reduce that supply or availability of heroin in the area.
“That’s the idea,” Jamison said. “If there’s less of it out there, then few people will become addicted or perhaps they will seek recovery on their own because they’re just getting so sick from not being able to get the drug.”
“This isn’t the only thing we’re doing to try to combat the heroin, but it’s the newest and flashiest that we wanted to bring to people’s attention,” Jamison said. The Piqua Police Department also has an officer as part of the drug court. They also build relationships with addicts.
“We think relationships with users are important,” Jamison said. “I think some people look from the outside and can’t believe that cops and users are getting along, but the fact is sometimes we’re an addict’s only friend that isn’t enabling their addiction. And I think it’s well-known in those circles that somebody could tell us they’re addicted to drugs and we’re not going to slap handcuffs on them, just not how it works and everybody knows it.”
Jamison also remarked that combating the heroin epidemic will involve collaborations between multiple counties and jurisdictions as this is a regional issue.
“We’re part of collaborations that are seeking new ways to deal with this,” Jamison said. “If we don’t do it as part of a collaborative effort, it’ll fail if it’s just Piqua PD.”
Opioid overdoses, deaths see increase
Opioids — namely prescription pain relievers and heroin — are the main cause of overdose deaths. “Opioids were involved in 28,647 deaths in 2014 and opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 2000,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also states that the age-adjusted rate for drug-poisoning deaths involving opioid analgesics, or prescription painkillers, has leveled in recent years while “the rate for deaths involving heroin has almost tripled since 2010.”
That rate has also impacted the Midwest the most. Between 2000-2013, “the age-adjusted rate for drug-poisoning deaths involving heroin increased for all regions of the country, with the greatest increase seen in the Midwest,” according to the CDC.
Ohio in particular has one of the highest rates of death due to drug overdose. In 2014, Ohio was one of the five states with the highest rates of death due to drug overdose, including West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Kentucky. In 2014, there were approximately 2,744 overdose deaths in Ohio.
Overdose deaths also appear to happen to more men than women as well as affect people in the 20-40 age range. In 2013, the number of heroin-related deaths for men was four times higher than for women, according to the CDC. The rate for drug-poisoning deaths involving heroin was also highest for adults aged 25-44 between 2000-2013.
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall