COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. John Kasich has proposed allowing counties to create committees that would review overdose fatalities, and the public would have limited access to the findings.
The committees would probe each overdose death in the county and maintain a database that would include victims’ demographic information, where the deaths occurred and what factors contributed to the overdoses, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
The committees could include coroners, state representatives, physicians or local mental health board members. The committees would submit an annual report to the state Department of Health that summarizes the data. Other than the report, the public would have little access to the committees’ findings.
Under Kasich’s proposal, the committees’ meetings would be closed to the public. Any records they’d review, such as coroners’ reports and medical histories, would be shielded from public disclosure. Some of those records are already public and would continue to be if they are requested from other sources.
Committee members would get access to records earlier than the public to understand the deaths more quickly.
Advocates for access to public records worry that the plan cuts off access to important information about the state’s drug epidemic.
“The public should have access to the information of the important work of this committee,” said Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio News Media Association.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, the exclusion is necessary to protect private health records, which are shielded from state public records’ laws. Allowing people to see what public documents the committee is reviewing might reveal the identity of the people whose deaths are being investigated, spokesman Russ Kennedy said.