Ohio sheriff warns gangs could target 'snitches' July 4 weekend; hospitals bracing

Hospital Safety Insider, June 29, 2017

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A hospital system in south-central Ohio is bracing for the possibility of a rough holiday weekend after a local law enforcement official’s startling warning that criminal gangs could be planning to target the area with violence and extra-lethal drugs.

Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader issued an alert Monday on Facebook stating that members of the criminal gangs MS-13 or Konvicted Family could make their way into the region, about an hour’s drive south of Columbus, this weekend with plans to wreak havoc.

“Possibly planning on ‘taking out’ believed snitches and spread ‘HOTSHOTS’ of heavily laced Heroin into the area that could cause an extremely large amount of overdoses in Pike County and surrounding counties,” Reader wrote in an alert reported by The Columbus Dispatch and other local media. “This is according to very limited intelligence deputies have gathered in recent drug related investigations across the area in the past weeks.”

When news of the sheriff’s warning broke, leaders within Chillicothe-based Adena Health System convened a special planning meeting to ensure that its facilities in and around Pike County would be prepared in case an influx in opioid overdoses, or any other incident, did materialize, says Jason Gilham, BA, Adena’s communications manager.

“We operate a daily patient safety huddle every single morning at 9:30, which brings together one individual, one representative from across the health system in, I think, about 18 different departments, from surgical, our emergency department, communications security, housekeeping, all across the board,” Gilham says.

The sheriff’s warning came up during the 15-minute huddle, and the group decided to schedule a follow-up meeting Tuesday with key players to discuss the matter in greater detail.

“That gave our security team a chance to touch base again with the local law enforcement, whether that be in Ross County and in Pike County, with a little bit more detail, just to kind of get a greater feel for where they stood and the latest information,” Gilham says. (Chillicothe is in Ross County.)

The leaders revisited the system’s emergency response plans and asked whether workers could use a refresher on what to do, for instance, in the event of a lockdown, Gilham says. They also decided to add an off-duty officer for the July 4 weekend at Adena Pike Medical Center, the system’s 25-bed critical access hospital in Waverly, which is the Pike County seat.

Furthermore, the system’s pharmacy department checked with all Adena facilities in the area to ensure that each had a sufficient supply of the opioid overdose-reversing drug Narcan® (naloxone).

“It was just kind of bringing everybody up to speed and having that comfort level going into the weekend,” Gilham says.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office distanced itself from Reader’s warning. “We are not involved with this,” spokeswoman Jill Del Greco said, as Dayton Daily News reported. And the alert has been greeted with skepticism from law enforcement in at least one neighboring county.

Scioto County Sheriff Marty V. Donini said there is “absolutely” no credible evidence that the gangs are present in the county he oversees, which lies just south of Pike County.

“The public is urged to be responsible and to refrain from circulating ‘unverified’ facts,” Donini said in a press release Tuesday, as reported by Columbus-based NBC4. “[T]o do so simply fuels hysteria and pandemonium within our community.” 

Donini said he had investigated the matter and consulted the Southern Ohio Drug Task Force after several Scioto County residents inquired with his office with concerns about social media posts and news reports.

Reader shot back with another Facebook post, arguing that Donini’s office was not involved in executing the search warrants and conducting the interviews that led to the alert being issued. 

“Scioto County would NOT have the information that we obtained in aggressively attacking the drug epidemic in Pike County,” Reader wrote Tuesday. “I’m sure they stay busy enough in Scioto County.”

Opioid-related trips to the emergency department (ED) have risen dramatically over the past decade in Ohio, according to data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). While rates of opioid-related ED visits have approximately doubled nationwide since 2007, they have nearly quadrupled in Ohio, where rates have held consistently above the national average, according to AHRQ’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project.

Deputies in Pike County have been cracking down on heroin dealers recently, with one recent raid garnering nearly $10,000 and 42 grams of fentanyl-laced heroin, as Cincinnati-based Fox19 reported. Reader noted in his Facebook post that one person arrested in the course of executing drug-related warrants was confirmed to be a Konvicted Family gang member with other Pike County ties.

Regardless of whether the gang members show up for Independence Day weekend, Adena is prepared to handle the fallout, Gilham says, noting Wednesday that the health system is “very confident with where we stand currently.”

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