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Lucas Co. to dig deeper into cases involving heroin, opiate addiction

Overdoses will be investigated by new program

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Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp has announced a program intended to help curb drug addiction problems.

THE BLADE
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Calling heroin-related overdoses in the Toledo area an epidemic, Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp announced Wednesday an initiative aimed at getting people who are addicted to the drug and opiates into treatment programs.

The program, which began last month, includes a four-person addiction squad in the sheriff’s department that investigates fatal and nonfatal heroin and opiate overdoses. The squad meets with family members at hospitals in nonfatal cases, and later conducts follow-up interviews at their homes.

The full-time Addiction Resource Unit, Sheriff Tharp said, also will work with addicts and their families to obtain treatment for their addictions.

“Our officers have received training on what they can do for people who have overdosed,” he said in an interview after the news conference announcing the initiative.

The sheriff partnered with the county prosecutor and coroner, and other law enforcement, and fire and emegency departments in the county to combat the escalating heroin epidemic.

Sheriff Tharp said authorities found there had been little follow-up in overdose cases because, in many instances, fire and police dispatchers didn’t know they were handling 911 calls for overdoses and, because of that, police were not sent to investigate or conduct follow-up interviews.

“This all started by looking at what can we do more that we haven’t done in the past,” he said. “We found out law enforcement was not being dispatched to hospitals in cases of drug overdoses because police and fire dispatchers didn’t know.”

Since Jan. 1, there have been about 60 heroin-related deaths from 12 regional counties, including 37 in Lucas County, according to Dr. Robert Forney, chief toxicologist for the office.

The initiative also involves professional health organizations, including the Zepf Center and Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, working with deputies in the Addiction Resource Unit.

The deputies also will interview overdose victims and their families to obtain names of those who supplied them with heroin, needles, and other drugs to share the information with the Metro Drug Task Force to investigate dealers.

Although it has not yet been done in Lucas County, Prosecutor Julia Bates said her office will go after drug dealers and seek indictments on involuntary manslaughter.

Mrs. Bates said the scenes of fatal overdoes in the future will be treated as crime scenes and handled like a murder investigation.

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 419-724-6199.

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