Drug Poisonings Go Far Beyond Opioid Abuse

Cocaine, meth among other dangers

The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 

Opioids continue to ravage communities, but other substances including cocaine and synthetic drugs also are poisoning users, state and local officials said Tuesday.

And more people are dying as a result.

There were 68 fatal drug poisonings in Fort Wayne in 2016, according to data from the Fort Wayne Police Department. Last year, the number jumped to 127 – an increase of 53 percent.

Through March, investigators have confirmed eight fatal poisonings this year. An additional 25 could be added to the total when toxicology tests are returned.

“The problem is the worst that I’ve ever seen,” said Capt. Kevin Hunter, who leads the police department’s Vice and Narcotics Unit. He said at least half of the more than 2,000 non-fatal poisonings from 2016 to 2017 were from opioids.

About 1,200 non-fatal poisonings were recorded last year. In 2018, 223 have been recorded so far.

“These drugs are a real problem,” said Hunter, who defined drug poisoning as unintentionally taking too much of a substance. “Last year was a horrible year for us, in terms of opioids.”

The figures were presented during a meeting of the Allen County Opioid Task Force. In a wide-ranging conversation, members said increases in poisonings and overdoses – which Hunter said is defined as intentionally taking too much of a drug – should be met with collaborative efforts that include education about the problem and treatment for drug users.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill attended the meeting at the Lutheran Foundation in Fort Wayne.

“What I’m hearing here, I’m hearing around the state,” he said, referring to stories about drug use, poisonings and overdoses.

Though opioids continue to get attention from the media and health experts, Hill said, towns and cities in Indiana have reported poisonings due to cocaine, methamphetamine and synthetic drugs.

“We have some substances that are riding below the radar that are devastating,” he said.

Specific information was not presented, but state Department of Health officials in March issued a statement that said users of synthetic cannabinoids in Illinois and Indiana experienced severe bleeding.

“Synthetic cannabinoids contain hundreds of chemicals, and it is difficult to know what’s in them or how people will react to the ingredients,” state Health Commissioner Kris Box said in the statement.

Still, Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan ranked opioids among the biggest threats to public health. Police, health experts and other professionals including police and lawyers should continue to meet to discuss possible solutions, she said.

Dr. Tony GiaQuinta is a pediatrician with Parkview Health and is the president-elect of the Indiana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He said he and other physicians are working to treat opioid addiction as a disease.

“We are looking at it as a public health crisis,” he said. “It’s a different way of looking at it.”

A report released in February by the Indiana Youth Institute said 89 of Indiana’s 92 counties have reported an overdose death from heroin or opioids in the past five years.

The meeting Tuesday included statements against legalizing marijuana, a move McMahan and Hill noted has gained momentum across the U.S. They and others including Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said legalizing it could lead to problems including an increased number of car crashes and use of the drug by children.

Hill said that while marijuana use might not lead directly to the use of drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine, it’s likely users of methamphetamine and cocaine have also used marijuana.

“I’m very worried about marijuana,” McMahan said. “I don’t want it. We don’t need it.”

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