In June, Middletown, Ohio, council member Dan Picard suggested that every time an ambulance responds to a drug overdose, the receiving patient be required to pay for the cost by performing community service. If that person experiences more than two overdoses but have not completed their community service, the 911 dispatcher will not send an ambulance.
Picard says he thought up this "three strikes" idea in the face of a financial crisis: In Middletown, the number of overdoses has skyrocketed, and the cost of emergency services is depleting the city's budget.
Picard, in preparation for bringing the proposal to city council for a vote, requested an attorney's opinion on whether or not the idea was legal.
But before attorneys could deliver a response, Picard last Friday recanted his support for the idea. He said the city would face significant litigation if it passed.
“In the interim, I've received a letter from the ACLU threatening to do just that," Picard says. "And frankly, the city doesn't have the money to fight it."
The ACLU of Ohio called Picard's idea dangerous, and said limiting emergency services for the sake of saving money is irresponsible.
"It's wrong in Middletown, it's wrong anywhere in Ohio," said Gary Daniels of the ACLU of Ohio in a statement. "Unfortunately, what we see happen is bad ideas have a way of spreading."
Picard says Middletown is still searching for a solution to their budget crisis brought on by the opioid epidemic. At the very least, he says some good came from his proposal.
“One thing I am satisfied with is that it has certainly prompted a worldwide discussion on this problem," Picard says.
This story originally appeared on WOSU Public Radio in Columbus, Ohio.