Working smart

A regional training initiative on heroin overdoses should inspire communities and agencies to collaborate


When money is tight, government agencies and municipalities must learn to collaborate and cooperate. Too often, however, turf battles prevent them from undertaking joint ventures that would benefit taxpayers and the community.

Law enforcement agencies are usually the first to recognize that they can do more by working together. Regional police training, initiated by Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp, should inspire agencies and municipalities to cooperate — whether through service consolidation, joint purchasing, or equipment sharing.

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Local law enforcement agencies have formed a heroin task force that includes the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office, the county coroner, the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), and others. In responding to heroin overdoses, officers will work to get people into treatment — as well as more aggressively pursue drug dealers — instead of dismissing overdoses as accidents or, in rare cases, suicides.

It’s an innovative and proactive effort, but one that also presents challenges. It thrusts law enforcement officers into a new role, as they seek to help overdose victims and their families with treatment, as well as gather evidence to pursue major dealers.

Handling these dual responsibilities will require training. To provide it, Mr. Tharp has organized two-hour sessions at the Lucas County Jail on Thursday, called “First Responder to Crime Scene and Heroin Use Identifiers.”

Instruction by BCI agents will cover topics such as protecting a crime scene and gathering evidence. Experts from a local treatment provider, A Renewed Mind, will offer information on agencies and organization that assist people who struggle with opioid and heroin addiction. The training, open without charge to all law enforcement agencies in the region, also will cover the warning signs of heroin addiction.

At least 200,000 Ohioans, including more than 10,000 in the Toledo area, are addicted to heroin or prescription opioids such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet. The new heroin initiative by local law enforcement will work best by gaining the community’s trust and working closely with treatment providers.

In doing so, law enforcement officials should consider a publicly stated no-arrest policy for drug users and addicts encountered by officers responding to overdose cases — with exceptions when evidence suggests major drug trafficking.

The task force must balance the needs of law enforcement with those of treatment. Police will pursue drug dealers and sellers by searching the victim’s home and gathering evidence, including phone numbers, cell phones, and contacts.

Those leads could help police find the person who sold the drugs. Police also will interview the person who overdosed, if he or she is alive, and seek information about local drug sales.

By providing training to his deputies and law enforcement officers around the region, Sheriff Tharp will help ensure that the heroin task force carries out its dual mission, while providing a model for how public agencies can collaborate and share scarce resources.