Online petition supports mandatory 'recovery camps' for Ohio addicts who overdose

Community organizers are taking steps to deal with the state's growing opioid epidemic

By Nick Glunt
Akron Beacon Journal

AKRON, Ohio — Following a huge showing at a heroin awareness rally in Akron this week, an online petition gathered signatures from more than 5,700 people demanding Ohio be placed in a state of emergency to fight the drug epidemic.

But what does a “state of emergency” actually mean?

According to Ohio law, an emergency declaration by Gov. John Kasich grants government the right to waive competitive bidding requirements for purchases. The declaration — often in response to natural disasters or, more rarely, public health crises — also can be used to order the Ohio National Guard to active duty.

At the federal level, it allows President Barack Obama to mobilize the Federal Emergency Management Agency to aid in disaster recovery or prevention efforts.

Reached by phone on Wednesday, the petition’s organizer said she had more in mind.

“If this were a plague, people would be quarantined and they wouldn’t be allowed to leave,” Camelia Carter said. “The heroin epidemic should be treated the same way.”

Carter said she hoped an emergency declaration would allow the government to set up detoxification centers for addicts to rid themselves of their dependency on drugs, as well as what she called “recovery camps” where addicts who overdose would be placed into mandatory, three-month inpatient drug treatment. The programs could be funded by cutting money to environmental protection initiatives and research grants, she said.

She named the initiative the “Parker Resolution” after her son, R.J. Parker, 25, who died of a drug overdose in May. Carter established the website to spread heroin awareness and was involved in the planning of Tuesday’s rally in Akron’s Lock 3 Park.

Carter, a Cuyahoga County resident, also set up the online petition, The petition does not specify what she means by an emergency declaration.

Asked if she thought there could be constitutional issues with her plan, Carter said she didn’t think so.

“If there are drugs in your system, you’re in possession of drugs,” she said. “Since that’s illegal, it’s no different than jail.”

Contacted Wednesday, Kasich’s office declined to comment on the specifics of Carter’s plan. However, spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach said the heroin epidemic is close to the governor’s heart every day.

“Emergency or not, the governor is treating the epidemic as if it was an emergency,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by that the governor isn’t talking to the public or his staff members about this epidemic.”

In addition, she said the state has a list of initiatives already in place to attempt to combat the epidemic.

But Carter said nothing the government is doing now is helping.

“This is an emergency,” she said. “My plan will work.”

Also demanded at the rally was that Akron police begin carrying the heroin reversal drug naloxone, which is marketed as Narcan.

But Akron police Chief James Nice said Wednesday that police carrying the antidote would not save lives.

“There has not been one case in Akron in recent years where a life could have been saved if police had Narcan,” he said.

That’s because Narcan is carried and administered by the city’s paramedics.

“We almost never beat EMS to overdose calls. If we do, it’s by seconds,” he said. “They act like we’re neglecting heroin addicts, but that’s the farthest thing from the truth.”

He said police carrying Narcan would be beneficial in places where police beat paramedics to scenes, like in rural areas. Still, he said narcotics officers will begin carrying Narcan in the near future because they often respond to scenes of overdoses or encounter addicts on the streets.

Nice said requiring other Akron police to carry Narcan would place an undue burden.

“It would take training, money, etcetera,” he said, “all to do something that’s already done.”

Copyright 2016 the Akron Beacon Journal

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