Individuals who overdose on opioids in public, revived by naloxone and refuse further medical treatment could be arrested on a charge of public intoxication by Maryville Police.
Maryville Police Department Chief Tony Crisp told his officers to start arresting these individuals as a way to ensure overdose victims receive proper care.
“We think if you’ve just overdosed on heroin, and we’ve had to bring you back with Narcan, you ought to be checked medically,” Crisp said. “Or at least put in a place where someone can watch you if you have another reaction.”
Naloxone is an opioid reversal drug that is also known by the brand name Narcan. Naloxone blocks an opioid’s effects for approximately 30 to 90 minutes. All Blount County Sheriff’s Office deputies carry the opioid reversal substance. Maryville and Alcoa firefighters do as well.
Crisp said the incidents of those whose overdose — and refuse medical attention — has increased since MPD stared using naloxone in January 2018.
“When we first started using Narcan everybody would go to the hospital,” he said. “I think what happened is they see we bring them back one or two times, and they feel like they’re OK. We’re concerned about that. We know that they’re still not OK. That heroin they just injected into their veins is still active in there.”
Public intoxication is Class C misdemeanor that is punishable of up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $50. Crisp added the direction to start arresting the overdose victims was directed to his officers, and is not an official policy change.
Another reason to arrest those just treated by naloxone, Crisp said, is to make sure those revived don’t drive impaired.
“What we’re concerned with from a public safety issue is if we Narcan them and leave them there, when that wears off, they are going to become impaired,” Crisp said.
Those arrested and charged with public intoxication will not face other drug-related offenses, Crisp noted.
Cornerstone Recovery Intervention Specialist Bill Lee, who was not speaking on behalf of Cornerstone, said that putting addicts in jail for public intoxication won’t help them seek out long-term treatment.
“My experience is if they are simply getting arrested, that just reinforces low self-esteem,” Lee said. “Simply arresting people and putting them in jail isn’t going to help.”
Lee stated there’s a cultural belief that arresting addicts will scare them into seeking assistance, but it has the opposite effect.
“Addicts, we get in trouble, and we keep using,” he said. “That makes it different from other medical illnesses. If there are other components, that may work, but simply arresting them won’t.”
APD, BCSO response
While Alcoa Police Department police could arrest overdose victims who refuse treatment while intoxicated in public, it is up to each officer to decide if charging someone with a crime is appropriate, APD Chief David Carswell said in an email.
“Officers would refer to TCA 39-17-310 (public intoxication) if or when there is need to charge someone with violation of this statute,” Carswell said. “It will always be an officer’s discretion as to whether or not to charge someone under this statute based on the totality of the circumstances.”
BCSO Deputy Chief Jarrod Millsaps said deputies also have discretion in these cases.
Deputies should consider other factors, and determine if the person is a “danger to themselves or others” before making a decision to arrest, Millsaps said.
“What if that individual is behind the wheel of a car, and they’re going to drive and we just Narcaned,” he said. “That’s a DUI.”