The Athens County Prosecutor’s Office is working with OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital to possibly include a drug test in their standard procedure for sexual assault examinations.
“There has been an increase in the use of drugs that render a person incapacitated and more susceptible to sexual assault,” Mark Seckinger, president of OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital, said in a statement.
Many victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault may have trouble remembering what happened, and the move will allow the hospital to better provide care and preserve evidence, Seckinger said.
The nursing staff at O’Bleness is required to explain the drug screening to the patient, and the patient must consent before the hospital collects the specimens. The specimens are also released to law enforcement.
Patients have the right to decline any medical treatment or any part of the sexual assault examination and forensic evidence collection, Seckinger said in his statement.
“We need all the evidence we can get,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn said he wanted the agreement because the hospital has done the testing before, although not in all cases. Blackburn said victims who come to him sometimes say that nurses warned them it could take a while to process the test and may not show anything. That sometimes dissuades them, based on how they interpret it, he added.
APD Chief Tom Pyle said he supported the tests when it was appropriate and wouldn’t harm the victim. Pyle added that he didn’t mind spending necessary money, but that there had to be a conversation about those costs.
“We don’t have an appropriation in place for it, and if that’s what we’re going to start doing … I have to go to council and get money for that,” Pyle said.
OUPD Lt. Tim Ryan said he was aware of the agreement, but didn’t have all the details yet.
“I wouldn’t say that it would hurt anything,” Ryan said. “My understanding is that it is very hard to find those drugs in the system because they’re processed out so quickly, but certainly, trying to get information is always a good thing.”
Pyle said he worried that if a patient was found to have knowingly ingested a felony-level narcotic, such as cocaine or heroin, they could be at risk of losing victims compensation from the state. Law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office, and the attorney general’s office need to meet and define the parameters under which they will ask for the assault kits, Pyle added.
“They’re in the throes of trauma, and to throw that kind of weight on them — to say ‘We won’t charge you criminally, but you could lose your funding over this’ … We need to have those discussions, and we haven’t yet,” Pyle said. “I want those things ironed out.”