Ohio Police Change Approach On Addiction: People Need Help, Not Jail

Rationale / Objectives

In July 2014 Sheriff John Tharp from the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, in Toledo, Ohio, started the Drug Abuse Response Team or DART program when he noticed that opioid addiction was affecting all types of people and that the department was arresting the same people again and again. [2] 

Project/Program Description & Major Achievements

The Drug Abuse Response Team (DART) the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office is a three-year-old program that has helped 2,400 overdose victims connect with detox. [2] Whenever there's an opioid overdose in Lucas County, hospital staff and other law enforcement officers call a member of the DART program. [1]

Lessons Learned

This department has recently gained attention for their non-traditional efforts in the rehabilitation and recovery of overdose victims. Deputy Charles Johnson, for example, tries to help individuals who use heroin instead of arresting them upon overdose. He visits them at home and meets their families. He helps them find work. He takes their phone calls in the middle of the night when they have the urge to shoot up. In addition to that, Johnson wears a coat and tie instead of a police uniform and drives a regular car instead of a sheriff’s cruiser. He wants to feel like he’s more of a counselor and less of a cop. [1]

For more information: Opioid Crisis Management: Foundation Roadmap

Further Description

D.A.R.T. operates with an administrator from the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Sheriffs, Forensic Counselors, as well as officers from other local jurisdictions. There mission is to reduce the number of deaths caused by opiate overdoses while helping victims to overcome their addictions. [3] Today, the D.A.R.T Unit reaches far beyond their traditional roles as first responders, and has engaged the Unit directly with linkage to treatment for victims and their families. 

Whenever there’s an opioid overdose in Lucas County, hospital staff and other law enforcement officers call a member of the DART program, the brainchild of Sheriff John Tharp. Sharp started to notice that the people filing his jail didn’t look much like the bad guys he’d met during his four-plus decades in law enforcement. [1]

The program focuses on building trust with overdose survivors that have substance use conditions to get them into treatment. [2] Officers meet in the community with overdose victims and their families, building strong relationships of trust. These officers transport addicts to effective local treatments that are available. Providing encouragement, the officers monitor and engage the victims as they progress through their treatment and recovery process. [3]

Johnson works for the Drug Abuse Response Team, or DART, a part of the Lucas County Sheriff's Office. Over the past three years, he and seven other officers have responded to more than 2,400 overdose victims. This year, they've seen an average of 18 a week -- and that's just in Lucas County. The program has worked so well that the Ohio attorney general recently gave $3 million to dozens of other law enforcement agencies in the state to replicate it. [1] Tharp spent 14 years on the Toledo vice and narcotics squad. He began to rethink the traditional law enforcement approach to drugs. [1]Tharp says that over the past three years, his unit has had an 81% success rate at getting people who’ve overdosed to go into a detoxification program. [1]

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Major Achievements


Metric Result
Overdose victims connected with detox: July 2014- October 2017


Overdose victims served by D.A.R.T on a weekly basis 18 
Success Rate of getting overdose victims into detox 80%

Researchers at the University of Toledo are studying whether DART helps people achieve sobriety long-term, Tharp said. He hopes so -- for the sake of those suffering from addiction and for everyone around them.[1]