Healthy Living

Heroin Crisis: Law Enforcement Officers Now Facing Tremendous Risk

07/13/2017 12:18pm ET | Updated July 13, 2017
Ritchie Farrell

To Protect and Serve

I flick on my lighter and move it back and forth under the cooker until the heroin bubbles. My heart races as I find a good vein and insert the needle.

There’s a little sting as I pull back on the plunger, and a dash of red-blue blood snakes up the middle of the clear liquid. A direct hit.

I pull the trigger, and everything goes warm. I begin to nod off. I can’t feel my face. I can’t breathe.

I am dying.

***

That was 30 years ago. Back then, law enforcement classified me a junkie scumbag who had overdosed for the third time. Ten years later, I climbed the Low Memorial Library stairs at Columbia University to accept the prestigious du-Pont-Columbia Award for Excellence in Journalism.

How did I beat a 10-bag-a-day heroin habit?

It certainly wasn’t easy. Perhaps the perfect blend of persistence, commitment, education, meditation, and exercise. But It all began with Narcan. Everything I have accomplished since my last bag of heroin is a direct result of what took place on the floor of an abandoned mill building in Lowell, Massachusetts when first responders revived me.

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, Narcan is not the magic bullet to end this the worst health crisis in our nation’s history. Rather, it is the genesis to the potentiality of hope for countless mothers and fathers who have squandered their retirement or mortgaged their future on the prayer of saving their child life.

I do not have the answer. However, I do know to find the answer; we must first smash the stigma of opioid addiction. We must never allow elected officials like Sheriff Richard Jones of Butler County, Ohio to prevail.

Recently, Sheriff Jones lit up his world with cameras and journalists when he proclaimed that none of his deputies would carry Narcan. He said, “I’m not the one that decides if people live or die. They decide that when they stick that needle in their arm.”

When Mary Beth Murphy, program director at Megan House, a holistic opioid treatment center in Lowell, Massachusetts read about Sheriff Jones’ decision, she said, “There should never be an option to deny a life-saving drug to any individual. Would you deny insulin to a diabetic because they ate too much cake?”

Ten minutes into researching a man that on the surface appeared so callous with human life, it all made sense. Sheriff Jones had a history of stomping on our Constitution and was charged with violating the constitutional rights of a local immigrant he deported. Butler County, Ohio was forced to pay $100, 000 dollars to the undocumented worker, Luis Rodriguez.

Sheriff Jones forgot that due process and equal protection embodied in our Constitution and Bill of Rights apply to every “person” and are not limited to citizens. The framers of the Bill of Rights understood that when the government has the power to deny rights and due process to one person, everyone’s rights are at risk.

But in this case, the reckless logic of one man does not threaten immigrants. Now, Sheriff Jones is playing Russian Roulette with his deputies. There are 16 deputies listed on the Butler County Sheriff’s Office website. A command staff whose images present decent human beings that Sheriff Richard Jones has placed in extreme peril with his bravado unquenchable addiction for media attention.

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than opioids. It doesn’t come from the Mexican Cartels. It comes from a lab in the basement of any home in America. From Maine to California, a high school drop-out chemist can download the ingredients on the internet and make a million dollars off a couple of bricks.

Ohio now tops the nation in opioid overdoses. Sheriff Jones must be aware that in his home state, fentanyl-related overdose deaths more than doubled from 503 in 2014 to 1,155 in 2015, illustrating how the powerful drug is escalating the crisis.

Sheriff Jones must recall the night in May, when a police officer in East Liverpool, Ohio, helped with a drug bust and brushed fentanyl powder off his uniform. The officer, Chris Green, started to feel his body shutting down, was given Narcan and taken to the hospital, where he fully recovered.

Later that month, a sheriff’s deputy and two emergency medical technicians were treated for accidental overdoses in Harford County, Maryland. In fact, new DEA recommendations explicitly state that all first responders, police officers, firefighters, and EMTs should always have Narcan on hand.

Sheriff Jones, it is never too late to do the right thing. I appeal to your love for America. This isn’t about being a Democrat or a Republican; it isn’t about a wall, or about playing God and deciding if a person dies. It’s about respecting human life.

The choice is simple. Three hundred seconds, five minutes, and Narcan carried by all you deputies could make the difference between your deputies taking their son to a ballgame on a warm summer evening, walking their daughter down the aisle of a church or you meeting their extended family at their funeral.

A police officer’s first order of business is to serve and protect. In fact, the phrase “serve and protect” is common in the credo of many law enforcement agencies. Police officers serve their communities by helping citizens in times of crisis, and the heroin epidemic is the worst health crisis in the history of America.

Sheriff Richard Jones, Please Do Your Job.

Ritchie Farrell is the author of I am a Heroin Addict.

Follow Ritchie Farrell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ritchiefarrell1

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.