Hancock County prosecutors begin criminal charges for overdoses

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For the first time on record the odds of accidentally dying from an opioid overdose in the United States are now greater than those of dying in an automobile accident.

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HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. -- The prosecutor in Hancock County is now filing charges against people who overdose and he is getting help from the Greenfield Police Department.

They hope this aggressive approach gets more people the treatment they need. Prosecutor Brent Eaton and officers think this could save lives.

"The choice to do nothing when people are dying doesn’t seem to be a good choice," said Eaton.

Eaton struggled with this idea, yet stories about overdose calls from first responders encouraged him to act. He claims he wants to stop the revolving door.

"Stop that revolving door of people that would overdose that we would respond, they go to the hospital and then they go back out to the same environment," he said.

It is a cycle of addiction his office hopes to stop.

Now, Eaton is filing charges against people who overdose in Hancock County. The crime would be possession of a controlled substance.

After police respond to an overdose and the person is sent to a hospital, officers will fill out a form to determine if there is probable cause to file charges.

If a judge believes there is probable cause, then the person would be arrested. If the defendant pleads guilty, the prosecutor's office would agree to offer treatment services through probation.

"The therapeutic resources that our community has are going to be brought to bear to try to have it be therapeutic and not punitive to the extent we can do so," said Eaton.

He has filed charges against one person so far. Eaton said the person is someone he went to high school with.

He explains the person plead guilty, got help and has been sober for 90 days as of Tuesday.

"By pursuing the criminal law aggressively, maybe put a stop to something that is really affecting our community," said Eaton.

The Greenfield Police Department is working with the prosecutor's office on this. Officers respond to overdoses and bring people back to life with narcan.

"I think this might be a way to get them tap the rudder, get them going a different direction," said Chief Jeff Rasche.

Chief Rasche is hoping this does not make people afraid to call 9-1-1.

"Humanity has to kick in at some point and say, this is a person’s life and I have to do the right thing," Chief Rasche said.

The idea also has the support of Linda Ostewig who runs a teen recovery program in Greenfield called The Landing. Some of her family members have struggled with addiction.

The Landing helps teens ages 13 to 19 who struggle with addiction, depression or anxiety or have a parent who struggles with addiction.

"I think it is a huge impact. I honestly think lives can be saved from it," she said. "It could very well be the intervention that they need to set them on a different path."

Prosecutor Eaton claims he is not criminalizing addiction.

"We are enforcing the laws in the State of Indiana. It is against the law to possess controlled substances. That is the law the legislature passed," he said. "People in this community, we do not want anyone else to die. We don’t want that to happen."

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