The Grandview Heights Division of Police, like many other law-enforcement agencies, has altered its approach to overdose victims and drug abusers as the opioid epidemic has escalated.

The approach is designed to give hope and help to addicts rather than treat them solely as criminals, Grandview police Chief Tom McCann said.

For the past year, Grandview has been assisted in its effort through it partnership with the HOPE Task Force, a multijurisdictional effort to combat the problem of heroin and opiate overdoses and addiction.

HOPE stands for Heroin Overdose Prevention and Education; it's a program of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office.

"Years ago, officers would look at (drug use) strictly from a criminal aspect," McCann said. "We're changing to the idea that these people are actually victims."

The focus now is on helping the victims and going after the dealers, he said.

Often, a person becomes hooked on an opiate or prescribed medication given to them after suffering an injury in a traffic accident, fall or other incident, Grandview police Sgt. Ryan Starns said.

"The medication is given to them for legitimate reasons: to help them with pain or in recovery from an injury," he said. "The doctor then stops the prescription because they have recovered and don't need the medication or because they know it can be very addictive."

When they lose the source of the drug on which they've become dependent, many people turn to obtaining it -- or a replacement, such as heroin -- from the street, Starns said.

Grandview's partnership with the HOPE Task Force formed after local police turned to the consortium for assistance last year, when it was investigating the opiate-overdose death of a Grandview resident that occurred Jan. 13, 2017.

The task force provided resources and expertise that led to the arrest of Cory Lynn Wesley McDowell, 46, of Columbus. McDowell later pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the victim's death and to two counts of drug trafficking; he was sentenced to six years in prison.

Upper Arlington police also got a boost from the task force in arresting another suspect in the overdose of a man who was serving as a primary witness in the Grandview case, Starns said.

"The HOPE Task Force is a way that law-enforcement agencies from multiple jurisdictions can work with each other and other agencies and organizations to combat this opiate epidemic we're all facing," he said.

The local police agency conducts the investigation of any drug case that occurs in its jurisdiction, McCann said.

When an overdose occurs and the victim survives, officers will return as soon as possible to visit the victim and offer them assistance in treating their addiction, Starns said.

That assistance may involve pairing them up with a medical-care provider or helping them find a rehab or detox center, he said.

Usually, on the return visit, a representative from one of the social-service agencies that participate in the HOPE Task Force also will be on hand.

"They are there to talk to the victim if they want that help," Starns said. "Sometimes they'll invite them into their home. Sometimes they'll shut the door in our face."

The goal is to offer the victim assistance, whether they are ready to accept it or not, he said.

An increasing number of people are in need of that assistance in the community, Starns said.

Grandview police saw a 250 percent increase in drug arrests from March 2015 to March 2018, he said.

"These are narcotics in general, so it could be cocaine, it could be heroin, it could be marijuana," Starns said.

From March 2015 to March 2016, officers made 32 arrests related to drugs. The number climbed to 77 for the next 12-month period.

During the period from March 2017 to March 2018, officers made 112 arrests on drug charges.

"It's a drastic increase" that mirrors what is happening across the country, Starns said.

The city has seen a corresponding increase in the number of theft reports, he said.

Between March 2015 and March 2016, officers took 179 theft reports.

Over the last 12 months, the number of reports totaled 228 -- a 27 percent increase.

Theft investigations usually reveal that the crime was committed to feed a drug addiction, Starns said.

In addition, a thief often is responsible for multiple incidents in a community, he said.

Victims make it easy for thieves by leaving their car doors unlocked and leaving valuables in plain sight in their vehicles, Starns said.

Criminals rarely will break a car window to commit a theft, Grandview detective Drew Brubaker said.

In 2016, there were only three theft reports in the city in which a car window was broken, he said.

A thief often simply will walk up and down a street, pulling on car door handles, Brubaker said. If a car is unlocked, the thief will ransack it.

Residents need to be vigilant about not providing thieves with opportunities to steal, Starns said.