County offers immunity to those turning in deadly drugs


By Dan Sewell - Associated Press



Hamilton County Ohio coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco announces toxicology reports on eight people who died of drug overdoses in July and August had the drug Carfentinal in their system, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016, in Cincinnatti. Behind her is Hamiliton County Sheriff Jim Neil. Synan Jr. wants the state of Ohio to declare a public health emergency to free up more resources for fighting heroin after a sudden overdose spike. (Patrick Reddy/The Cincinnatti Enquirer via AP)


FILE – In this Aug. 13, 2013, file photo, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil speaks during a news conference in Cincinnati. After a surge in overdoses in the Cincinnati area, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil, the county coroner and other officials went to court Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, seeking immunity from prosecution to anyone who turns in heroin or other potentially deadly drugs. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers, File)


In this July 29, 2015, file photo, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters speaks during a news conference in Cincinnati. After a surge in overdoses in the Cincinnati area, Deters, the county sheriff, coroner and other officials went to court Wednesday seeking immunity from prosecution to anyone who turns in heroin or other potentially deadly drugs. Judge Robert Ruehlman of Hamilton County Common Pleas Court agreed.


AP Photo | John Minchillo, File

CINCINNATI (AP) — A county judge Wednesday ordered immunity from prosecution for anyone who turns in heroin or other potentially deadly drugs after a stunning surge in overdoses in the Cincinnati area.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters asked for the blanket immunity, which he and Common Pleas Court Presiding Judge Robert Ruehlman agreed was unheard of locally, but needed to help get the drugs out of homes after what authorities say was a recent blitz of the city by sellers who mixed heroin with the extremely powerful animal tranquilizer, carfentanil.

“We may have family members who find it,” Deters explained in court. “Their child may be an addict, their husband … and this gives them a vehicle to turn it in without fear of prosecution.”

Authorities have said nearly 300 overdoses have been reported in the Cincinnati area since Aug. 19, including 174 reports in a six-day period. The coroner’s office has confirmed carfentanil, which can be thousands of times stronger than morphine and is used to sedate elephants, was present in at least eight overdose deaths in recent weeks.

“Turn it in, get it off the streets; get it out of your homes, out of your families,” Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco said Wednesday, urging residents to turn in drugs that could be “extremely deadly.”

Ruehlman’s order covers anyone who “turns over any substance or combination of substances said person believes may cause the user of said drug to have an overdose.” They can turn the drugs in to any law enforcement agency in the county.

Sammarco, Sheriff Jim Neil and other county officials accompanied Deters to court. She said earlier that the sudden spike in overdose cases raised concerns that heroin dealers were testing the community’s response to carfentanil.

Communities in Ohio neighbors West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana also saw overdose spikes in recent weeks.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials have said they believe much of the carfentanil is being shipped from China to Mexico, where traffickers mix it with heroin and other drugs such as the painkiller fentanyl.

Cincinnati firefighters said they sometimes had to use multiple doses — as many as six — of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone to save users during the spike. Authorities say carfentanil also poses danger to police, emergency personnel and drug dogs having contact with it.

Hamilton County Ohio coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco announces toxicology reports on eight people who died of drug overdoses in July and August had the drug Carfentinal in their system, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016, in Cincinnatti. Behind her is Hamiliton County Sheriff Jim Neil. Synan Jr. wants the state of Ohio to declare a public health emergency to free up more resources for fighting heroin after a sudden overdose spike. (Patrick Reddy/The Cincinnatti Enquirer via AP)
http://limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/web1_112333173-b3ad43d229d94d36a94a30a94c2d069b.jpgHamilton County Ohio coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco announces toxicology reports on eight people who died of drug overdoses in July and August had the drug Carfentinal in their system, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016, in Cincinnatti. Behind her is Hamiliton County Sheriff Jim Neil. Synan Jr. wants the state of Ohio to declare a public health emergency to free up more resources for fighting heroin after a sudden overdose spike. (Patrick Reddy/The Cincinnatti Enquirer via AP)
FILE – In this Aug. 13, 2013, file photo, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil speaks during a news conference in Cincinnati. After a surge in overdoses in the Cincinnati area, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil, the county coroner and other officials went to court Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, seeking immunity from prosecution to anyone who turns in heroin or other potentially deadly drugs. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers, File)
http://limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/web1_112333173-d68eb0441e714a8b87958e1f32f25f75.jpgFILE – In this Aug. 13, 2013, file photo, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil speaks during a news conference in Cincinnati. After a surge in overdoses in the Cincinnati area, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil, the county coroner and other officials went to court Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, seeking immunity from prosecution to anyone who turns in heroin or other potentially deadly drugs. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers, File)
In this July 29, 2015, file photo, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters speaks during a news conference in Cincinnati. After a surge in overdoses in the Cincinnati area, Deters, the county sheriff, coroner and other officials went to court Wednesday seeking immunity from prosecution to anyone who turns in heroin or other potentially deadly drugs. Judge Robert Ruehlman of Hamilton County Common Pleas Court agreed.
http://limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/web1_112333173-be4cf59b10ba4f20969eddf2baf70046.jpgIn this July 29, 2015, file photo, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters speaks during a news conference in Cincinnati. After a surge in overdoses in the Cincinnati area, Deters, the county sheriff, coroner and other officials went to court Wednesday seeking immunity from prosecution to anyone who turns in heroin or other potentially deadly drugs. Judge Robert Ruehlman of Hamilton County Common Pleas Court agreed. AP Photo | John Minchillo, File

By Dan Sewell

Associated Press

Follow Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com. To see some of his other recent stories: http://bigstory.ap.org/content/dan-sewell.

Follow Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com. To see some of his other recent stories: http://bigstory.ap.org/content/dan-sewell.

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