SMPD Chief Warns of Tainted Drugs

Staff Writer

With a St. Marys man facing severe charges for an incident in Wells County, Indiana, St. Marys Police Chief Jake Sutton released some details in the involuntary manslaughter case as well as a warning for the public.

In late July, the SMPD initiated an investigation into the death of 38-year-old Nicholas Kohler. Kohler was found dead in Indiana, the result of fentanyl toxicity. Through the investigative work of Det. Luke Turpin, officers arrested 39-year-old Justin Watts and he was charged with trafficking in drugs as well as involuntary manslaughter.

“Our detective was very tenacious in his investigation and it was determined that Justin Watts supplied drugs to Mr. Kohler that ultimately lead to his death, thus causing the involuntary manslaughter charge,” Sutton said, adding that the department worked jointly with Indiana officials on the death investigation.

The loss of yet another life to drugs prompted the chief to issue advice to the public about the dangers that come from the use of illicit drugs. According to information from the Ohio Department of Health, drug overdose deaths from fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine have risen sharply in recent years with fentanyl involved in more than 70% of all of the state’s 4,854 unintentional overdose deaths in 2017 — the most recent year available. 

Just three years prior, in 2014, fentanyl accounted for only 19.9% of the 2,531unintentional overdoses.

“Opioids have been a problem in our nation and our region for a while,” Sutton said. “I caution those who sell and those who use that by participating in this dangerous and illegal activity, it can cause your death or the death of another person. We will continue to thoroughly investigate all of these cases to bring charges to those who violate the law.”

The legal definition of involuntary manslaughter, according to the Ohio Revised Code Title 29, Chapter 2903.04, states “No person shall cause the death of another or the unlawful termination of another's pregnancy as a proximate result of the offender's committing or attempting to commit a felony.”

Violation of this chapter will result in a first-degree felony charge.

“We always encourage people to take that step in their life and get help because the fact is that across the US, and even in our region, the drugs that people purchase and use are not always the drugs that they think they are,” Sutton said. “They could be getting marijuana that is tainted with fentanyl or heroin or methamphetamine that could cause a reaction that is totally different than what they expected and could even lead to the death of themselves or another. 

“The people who sell or give these drugs to people and it causes their death, we will fully investigate the case and if warranted, bring charges against the person who provided those drugs.”

Some of the resources that Sutton recommended people turn to for help include Coleman Professional Services, St. Rita’s Hospital, We Care Center as well as Narcotics Anonymous. He added that there are other local resources to help and that the department is open to helping people get the treatment they need to battle addictions.

“We don’t want to see people die,” the chief stated. “The overdose issue has slowed a bit in terms of heroin and other opiates and has gone more to methamphetamine but people are still having contact with meth tainted with fentanyl which shows that you never know what you’re going to get. The amount of naloxone we give to people who may overdose on fentanyl is a lot to where we may not have enough to save the person." 

Sutton noted that the number of overdoses in the city is trending downward compared to previous years, as is the police department’s use of the opiate reversal agent naloxone. St. Marys Fire Chief Doug Ayers also confirmed that his department’s use of naloxone is down but Sutton noted that even naloxone is only a temporary solution.

“Narcan is readily available at pharmacies now because this is such a prevalent problem,” Sutton said. “However, it doesn’t solve the problem of addiction and it doesn’t solve the problem that people are still dying from overdoses. Does it reduce deaths, yes, but they still happen.

“Quite honestly, if you choose to ingest drugs — especially nowadays — you are playing Russian Roulette when it comes to your life because you don’t know what you’re getting and the next time you use, it could mean your life.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration operates a 24/7, 365-day-a-year referral and information service for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. The free, confidential service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations and can be reached by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357).