Hancock County to charge drug users in a new approach to stop the cycle of overdoses

Drug overdose. (Stock photo)
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HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. (WTHR) – Hancock County is trying a new approach to tackling the opioid crisis.

It involves charging people who overdose with a drug crime in the hopes of stopping the cycle of drug abuse, but critics worry it will criminalize addiction instead.

Greenfield Police Chief Jeff Rasche said the approach is aimed at the person "who can't get out of the hole... the pattern we see too often is the revolving door of failure after failure after failure."

He's talking about the person who overdoses. First responders use Naloxone to revive that person, who's then taken to the hospital, released and starts using drugs again.

"We can't just stick our head in the sand and keep doing the same thing. We need to try something new," Rasche said, adding that the program isn't meant to punish anyone but to force them into treatment.

"The last thing we want to do is throw a felon on someone's record so that someday when they're clean, they can't find a job. That's not intent," he said. "It's to get them clean and going in different direction."

But Reg McCutcheon, executive director of Landmark Recovery in Carmel, sees it differently.

McCutcheon said addiction "is a disease and we're criminalizing the disease side and that's what we have to be mindful of. Statistics do not support forcing someone [into treatment]. We have a national average in excess of eight times before [those struggling with addiction] they find ways to get help."

Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton said he's faced push-back from people who question the approach of charging people who overdose.

"We have to stop the cycle," Eaton said. "We want to do all we can and use all the resources we have to see that lives are saved. That's what the goals are."

And the hope is instead of potentially going to jail, drug users will plead guilty and immediately be placed in a community recovery program, instead of waiting months for a spot.

Amy Ikerd with the Hancock County Probation Department said, that's because the county has contracted for a number of beds in area treatment centers.

"I think it gets people access to services they're not able to get if don't enter the criminal justice system," Ikerd said.

Will it work? Chief Rasche said they won't know until they try.

He said last year in Hancock County, 11 people died from overdoses and those deaths changed the lives of many others.

"Too many times had we've had parents say they knew their kid was wrapped up in something and didn't know what do for them," Rasche said.

As far as Rasche knows, Hancock County is the first community to try this approach. He knows others will be watching before deciding whether to follow suit.

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