5 takeaways from Fort Wayne health, police discussion on opiates

Capt. Kevin Hunter of the Fort Wayne Police Department's Vice/Narcotics Division, shows a bag of "spice," a drug that is stronger than just merely being a synthetic marijuana because makers are now adding opioids such as Fentanyl. (Photo by Lisa M. Esquivel Long of The News-Sentinel)

Fort Wayne and Allen County police and health officials gathered Wednesday at Three Rivers Ambulance Authority to discuss the opioids problem in the community. Opioids are painkillers that include heroin as well as brand-name prescription drugs Vicodin and Percocet. That’s what can make them so accessible: they can come into the home as a prescription to deal with a broken bone or post-care for wisdom teeth extraction.

Here are five things most notable from Wednesday’s event:

*These are not your 1980s drugs, warned Allen County health commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan. “I think people just don’t realize that the drugs on the street (now) are not what they were when you were a teenager.” Back in the 1980s, the THC levels, the chemical compound that creates the high for users, were 5 percent, but they’re 95 percent now, she said. “I think we’re seeing it’s having a real marked impact on the brain. … Heroin is just not poppy seed anymore; it’s Fentanyl, pure Fentanyl, which is so addictive, so addictive.”

*Users don’t always get what they believe they’re buying.

Within Allen County, police are seeing Fentanyl regularly being sold as heroin and being sold straight outright, and it’s 100 times more powerful than morphine, causing overdose deaths, said Capt. Kevin Hunter of the Fort Wayne Police Department’s Vice/Narcotics Division. Those wanting to buy heroin could be getting something with Fentanyl and could die on the first use. “Spice,” once sold at gas stations and used as a substitute for marijuana isn’t that anymore. “It’s nothing like marijuana,” Hunter said. “… We have seen some recent spikes in Spice overdoses. And we’ve also heard of Spice overdose deaths.” The drug can have Fentanyl added, and some users are experiencing psychotic breakdowns and not returning to normal. “There’s no way to know that what you’re getting and what you’re buying is actually that product” that you wanted.

*Know what the drugs look like and where they could be hidden.

Because the drugs could be in such a small package, look in every spot possible where your child could have hidden them, Hunter said. Look under your child’s mattress or the pockets of folded-up clothing or inside shoes. Air ducts of your house are another hiding place. Another form of drugs is wax, which is a butane honey oil, Hunter said. It’s ground-up marijuana that’s put into a tube with butane gas added so it chemically extracts all the THC. It looks like honey and has a 90-95 percent THC purity.

*Be on the lookout for these symptoms or paraphernalia of opioid use.

Those on opioids have constricted pupils. Most people who use heroin start by snorting it but almost all end up injecting it, Hunter said. Look for spoons missing from your utensil drawer, burn marks on them or cotton balls with them. Spice users have pipes, bongs or cigarettes. Any bag with a powdery substance could be Fentanyl, so don’t open it. Call police to pick it up, Hunter said.

Also look for changes in your children’s behavior, the friends they have or their school grades, McMahan said.

*Children today feel highly anxious with social media keeping them connected to judgment and national/international disasters 24 hours a day.

“Just last month,” McMahon said, “we had (the Las Vegas killing of 59 and injuries of hundreds at a country music concert by a gunman), we had Hurricane Irma, we’ve had Puerto Rico (devastated by Hurricane Maria), we’ve had wildfires. … Social media makes everything a crisis…It’s changing them physiologically.”