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Ohio’s Issue 1: Will Reclassifying Some Drug Felonies As Misdemeanors Decrease Access To Treatment?

New legislation in Ohio has been proposed to reclassify low-level felony drug offenses as misdemeanors. Unlike Florida’s Amendment 4 that some say might reduce crime by restoring a convicted felon’s right to vote, Ohio’s Issue 1 might encourage crime and expand the opioid epidemic.

Issue 1 isn’t designed to give drug addicts a free pass. It’s designed to reallocate millions of Ohio state dollars currently being used to operate drug treatment and addiction rehabilitation programs in prison. The unfortunate consequence is letting felony drug offenders off the hook, which simultaneously reduces their access to treatment. If it’s not compulsory, they’re not likely to pursue treatment.

Issue 1 will likely increase the opioid epidemic

It’s not cheap to put people through a drug rehabilitation program, and it’s understandable that Ohio wants to save money where they can. However, Issue 1 eliminates an offender’s access to treatment, and puts them back on the street where they’ll either do more drugs and potentially die from an overdose, or they’ll sell more drugs to other people who will then fatally overdose.

Ohio needs legislation that increases access treatment

Ohio isn’t the only state with an opioid problem. The opioid epidemic is widespread across the U.S. In Maryland, for example, the opioid epidemic claimed the lives of 2,009 people in 2017, but Maryland isn’t rolling back treatment for addicts, and they don’t let people off the hook easily. According to Jimeno & Gray, multiple people can be convicted for possession of a single item if the jury finds evidence of mutual use and enjoyment. It might seem harsh not to let people off the hook when they aren’t the “source” of the drugs, but it supports them because treatment is often part of their sentence.

Congress passed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in 2008, requiring most insurance plans in the U.S. to cover mental health and substance recovery services at the same level as other medical services. This act made it illegal for healthcare providers to raise deductibles, limit provider networks, or make authorization requirements difficult for people seeking treatment. However, even if treatment is made available to everyone without any barriers, there are still other concerns.

Issue 1 might increase fatal opioid overdoses involving fentanyl

Opponents say Issue 1 would keep drug dealers who sell fentanyl-laced heroin and cocaine on the streets. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50-100x more potent than morphine. It’s a schedule II drug typically prescribed to help surgery patients manage pain. Unfortunately, it’s often made illicitly and combined with other drugs without the user’s knowledge. The risk of overdosing on heroin and cocaine are already high; when laced with fentanyl, drugs become deadly.

Why the focus on fentanyl?

In March 2018, the CDC released a report estimating that 63,632 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, which is a 21.5% increase from 2015. The CDC says illicit fentanyl is responsible for the drastic increase in fatal overdoses since it’s being combined with other drugs like cocaine and heroin. In 2016, cocaine deaths rose by 52.4%, heroin deaths rose by 19.5%, and fentanyl-specific and synthetic opioid deaths rose by 100%.

Fentanyl is extremely potent, making it much easier to accidentally overdose. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioid receptors are found in areas of the brain that control breathing. High doses of opioids, especially fentanyl, can cause a person to stop breathing, resulting in death.

Issue 1 is intended to become part of Ohio’s constitution

When laws are passed, they can generally be changed or reversed if the people decide to do so. Issue 1 is being proposed to become part of Ohio’s state constitution. If the provisions turn out to be harmful, they will be extremely difficult to change or reverse.

Issue 1 extends to crimes beyond drugs

What many Ohio residents don’t realize is that Issue 1 applies to more than just drug offenses. According to Ryan Smith, candidate for Ohio House 93, Issue 1 would allow a 25% reduced sentence for those convicted of human trafficking, kidnapping, felonious assault, and other felony crimes. Smith also brings up another interesting point. Issue 1 would eliminate the motivation for non-violent drug offenders to get treatment in lieu of a conviction.

Without the threat of prison, an addict won’t be motivated to follow through with a treatment program and may not follow through with probation terms.

Addiction is a serious problem. Drugs and alcohol rewire a person’s brain to the point where they have no control over their life. Addicts struggle to stay on track even when they voluntarily put themselves into a recovery program. If Ohio passes this legislation without simultaneously making treatment available through other means, we could see an unfortunate increase in opioid deaths in 2019.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes

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