Deputy Jason Langlois, center, and other officers listen to Megan Anello, left, an agent with the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, during a training session at the sheriff's office.
Dozens of local law enforcement officials participated in heroin-related training Thursday, in response to what Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp described as a drug epidemic.
Sheriff Tharp said that to combat the epidemic, law enforcement should help addicts enter treatment, but also aggressively investigate overdose deaths.
Representatives from the state’s Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation and the Toledo substance-abuse treatment provider, A Renewed Mind, spoke to sheriff’s deputies and law enforcement officials from elsewhere, including Sylvania Township and Swanton. About 50 people attended a morning training session at the sheriff’s office, and a second session took place in the afternoon.
Sheriff Tharp said his office is committed to investigating overdose deaths, which could result in criminal charges — such as manslaughter — against the drug supplier. This year, he’s spoken with the Lucas County prosecutor and coroner regarding more aggressive investigation and possible prosecution in such cases.
“We owe it to our community, we owe it to our families. We owe it to the families of the people that have died,” he said after the first training session. “We need to find out: Why did this happen, who did this, and how can we prevent this from happening again?”
Investigating scenes where an overdose death occurs requires the careful preservation and collection of evidence, said two BCI special agents from the Bowling Green office. They gave law enforcement officials tips on how to clear the scene of family members, who might try to protect a drug abuser’s reputation by compromising evidence.
Investigators should look for syringes, bindles used to hold drugs, needles, cell phones and other objects commonly found at the scene of an overdose death.
“They just need to be aware of the DNA evidence that could possibly be there,” Special Agent Megan Anello said.
“The police departments are trying to go after the dealers now, so if they are going to take that step to charge somebody … they need to be treating the scene as serious as the charges,” she said.
This was the first law-enforcement training she and Special Agent Chris Hamberg conducted, and they’re ready to provide more sessions for additional agencies. Mr. Hamberg said heroin-related overdose deaths have become an epidemic that reaches big cities and rural areas. BCI will help agencies that request help with investigations.
Chris Hamberg, a special agent with the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, speaks to law-enforcement officers during the training Thursday at the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office.
An estimated 80 heroin-related overdose deaths took place last year in about 20 surrounding counties. About 60 percent of those deaths were in Lucas County, according to the coroner’s office.
Statewide, 680 people died of heroin-related overdoses in 2012, according to Ohio Department of Health data being released today. That represents a record number of fatalities, up from 426 in 2011.
Sheriff Tharp wants deputies to pair investigative work with knowledge of local treatment resources so they can share that information with addicts and family members. He told participants at the training session to work with family members of those surviving an overdose to help get the person into treatment.
Matthew Rizzo, vice president of compliance and clinical operations for A Renewed Mind, discussed resources for those struggling with addiction, from medication drop-off sites to residential treatment options.
Law enforcement can play a big role in getting people to enter treatment, he said, after the session. “Sometimes, a crisis can be fertile ground for starting the change process,” Mr. Rizzo said.
He encouraged law enforcement officials to support families as much as they can, and encourage parents to closely monitor their children’s activities.
Information from The Blade’s news services was used in this report.