A Prosecutor’s Plan to Protect Ohio: Fighting the Opioid Crisis and Improving Our Criminal Justice System

 

Ohio’s broken political system has failed ordinary Ohioans, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the opioid crisis ravaging our communities. The failure of politicians to address this crisis has been made worse by a criminal justice system that does not provide adequate treatment to non-violent people suffering from addiction. The State of Ohio currently has the second-highest rate of opioid-related deaths in the country, and there have been periods that Ohio has been first. Nearly 5,000 Ohioans died of drug overdose deaths in 2017. For too long, politicians have failed everyday Ohioans in their most basic duty—keeping every single person safe.

As a career federal prosecutor for two decades, and as U.S. Attorney, Steve Dettelbach has been in the trenches in the fight against drug and opioid dealers, and against the drug cartels themselves. Dettelbach busted hundreds of large-scale drug dealers year after year, and he worked with law enforcement to execute the largest heroin seizure in Ohio history. As a prosecutor, Dettelbach also put away pill-pushing doctors and won $50 million for taxpayers when he took on a big drug company for illegally pushing opioids.

But Steve knows that fighting the opioid crisis isn’t just about enforcement—it’s also about treatment and prevention. That’s why, as Ohio’s top federal prosecutor, Dettelbach brought together leaders in the medical community, treatment experts, members of law enforcement, and advocates to form the U.S. Attorney’s Heroin and Opioid Task Force to address the crisis at the community level. That Task Force has become a national model for fighting the opioid crisis, and was recognized by the United States Attorney General as the best program of its type in the nation.

In enforcement, treatment, and prevention, Dettelbach’s plan also addresses criminal justice reform. Too many people suffering from addiction are put in prison and not given the tools they need to recover. And more often than not, this system disproportionately impacts communities of color. These disparities have inflated our prisons to the point they are overflowing and crushed our budgets. Yet even after spending all this money on prisons, the drug problem in Ohio continues to be worse than ever.

To help turn the tide, Dettelbach’s plan takes a multipronged approach to the opioid crisis: taking on big pharmaceutical companies responsible for this crisis, expanding access to drug courts, and giving law enforcement the tools they need to take drug dealers off the street while making sure that we use new techniques to protect innocent people. Dettelbach’s plan also calls for meaningful criminal justice reform, bringing together experts to come up with a plan to address sentencing for drug crimes, and scrutinizing industries that perpetuate this public health crisis.

 

  1. Make big pharma pay for addiction treatment

As U.S. Attorney, Steve took on big drug companies, including cracking down on one company that illegally pushed opioids. Steve made big drug companies pay for their fraud and illegal practices, winning nearly $175 million in fines and settlements for taxpayers. As Attorney General, Dettelbach will aggressively pursue the cases against drug companies and hold big pharma accountable for their role in the opioid crisis.

Opioid manufacturers aggressively marketed and pumped addictive drugs into our communities, knowing the dangers they posed. Now those same drugs have wreaked havoc on countless lives and communities. Steve will fight to make big pharma help pay to clean up the mess by requiring them to fund prevention, treatment, and recovery services. He can do this because, unlike his opponent, Steve has not taken a dime from big pharma.1

 

  1. Make insurance companies meet their obligations to cover addiction treatment and non-addictive treatment alternatives

Ohio law requires health insurance companies to cover mental health and addiction treatment, just as they would for physical illness. But politicians in Columbus have failed to adequately enforce this critical protection, resulting in countless Ohioans not getting the addiction treatment they need. Treatment experts say that we could reduce opioid death rates by enforcing this law, which is already on the books. As Attorney General, Steve will fight to make sure insurance companies meet their obligations to cover substance abuse and mental health treatment.

Steve will also step up efforts to get health insurers to cover non-opioid and non-addictive treatment of pain. The Ohio Attorney General did not begin to engage health insurers in a formal dialogue around the opioid crisis until October 2017, one year before the election. This is unacceptable. Steve believes health coverage for non-addictive treatment is critical to combating the crisis, and as Attorney General, he will accelerate the AG office’s dialogue with health insurers to monitor adoption of best practices for coverage of non-addictive treatment, and identify additional ways health insurance companies can do their part to help tackle this public health crisis. And if necessary, he will take legal action to ensure it gets done right.

 

  1. Fix the testing lab backlog to give police and prosecutors the tools they need to keep drug dealers off the streets

Police and prosecutors need quick toxicology reports so they can bring cases and take drug dealers off the streets. But with the opioid epidemic, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation Crime Lab has been unable to keep up with the needs of law enforcement, with testing times averaging more than three months. That leaves drug dealers on the streets while prosecutors sit and wait for the evidence they need to get indictments.

Mike DeWine has failed to adequately address the problem. It’s gotten so bad that in one case a judge ordered a defendant facing drug charges to write DeWine a “thank you” note for the backlog, which allowed him to plea down to a far lesser sentence. Even Ohio’s Republican Lieutenant Governor knows Mike DeWine has failed us, saying “drug dealers are being set free or allowed to plead to lesser offenses because Mike DeWine can’t get his house in order.”

As Attorney General, Steve will give BCI the tools it needs to complete toxicology reports quickly so law enforcement can do their job and get drug dealers off the streets and behind bars, where they belong.

 

  1. Make specialized drug courts available in every single Ohio county

Steve understands that many of the people pulled into the legal system by addiction don’t need handcuffs; they need a hand. Specialized drug courts are a way to offer it. These courts handle cases involving low-level, non-violent drug offenders. They have been shown to reduce crime and help people get their lives back on track. But once again, Ohio’s current leadership has ignored vast parts of the state and failed to bring best practices everywhere they are needed. As of August, there were still 30 Ohio counties without drug courts, accounting for more than 1.3 million Ohioans. Three of the top six counties in overdose death rate still don’t have a drug court. As Attorney General, Steve will work with local communities and the Ohio Supreme Court to make access to a drug court available in every Ohio county so that people who fall into the legal system as a result of opioids have a fighting chance to pull themselves out.

But Steve won’t stop at just drug courts. To make sure that individuals and families who have suffered as a result of Ohio’s drug crisis have access to the necessary prevention, treatment, and recovery supports, Steve will also work with local Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health (ADAMH) Boards and their county hubs.

 

  1. Enact criminal justice reform

Ohio’s criminal justice system is badly in need of reform, but the politicians in Columbus have failed to deliver. Overly harsh sentences for non-violent drug addicts, a broken bail system, and the troubling use of for-profit, private prison corporations have destroyed families, done little to stop the problem of drug addiction, and created disparities between how communities of color are treated by the criminal justice system.

Steve Dettelbach believes that Ohio needs significant reform of its laws dealing with the drug and opioid problem. He recognizes that Issue 1’s presence on the ballot is a scathing indictment of Columbus politicians’ failure to address this crisis. That said, after extensive and thoughtful discussions with leaders in the legal, judicial, law enforcement, and treatment communities around Ohio, Steve has decided he will vote ‘no,’ on Issue 1. The measure would enshrine in the Ohio Constitution a series of legal changes that, while well-intentioned, are too difficult to amend. Steve strongly believes it is critical we make changes to Ohio’s outdated drug statutes—which sometimes felonize addiction itself. And he condemns the effort to politicize this issue and divide Ohioans over the need for reform at a time when we must be united.

To address these issues, as Attorney General, Steve Dettelbach will immediately create a Criminal Justice Reform Task Force to improve our criminal justice system. Its first task will be to propose modernization of Ohio’s drug code. The Task Force will bring together stakeholders from the community, law enforcement, prosecutors, the courts, treatment providers, and others. Steve and the Task Force will work with the members of the legislature on both sides of the aisle to finally deliver meaningful reform on these criminal justice issues.

 

  1. Create a Conviction Integrity Unit within the Attorney General’s Office

Steve will work with county prosecutors and the defense bar to create a Conviction Integrity Unit within the Attorney General’s office and will offer its services on a voluntary basis to any county prosecutor’s office that desires to use it.

Improvements in DNA forensics and other methods have helped exonerate some people wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. They have also verified in many cases that the defendant in question did indeed commit the crime, bringing needed closure to victims and their families. Because prosecutors should seek justice and not just convictions, the Conviction Integrity Unit will review credible claims of factual innocence referred by any Ohio prosecutor’s office.