Like many other counties in the US, Allen County, Indiana has seen a dramatic spike in prescription opioid and heroin use, accidental overdose deaths and transmission of hepatitis and HIV. According to Allen County Health Commissioner Deborah McMahon, adequately addressing a public health issue of such magnitude requires the collective effort of families, law enforcement, healthcare providers, counselors and public safety officials. Last Friday, several local organizations, agencies, healthcare specialists and community members gathered at Calhoun Street Soups, Salads, and Spirits in Fort Wayne, Indiana to discuss additional measures against the heroin/fentanyl crisis that the county continues to grapple with.
Fort Wayne Police Department Capt. Kevin Hunter, who is also a member of the Opioid Task Force and head of the Vice and Narcotics Division said he has never seen anything like this in Allen County. He also believes this unprecedented opioid crisis hasn't peaked yet in the community but is nevertheless hopeful that dedicated, joint effort can prove successful in curbing this devastating epidemic. Capt. Hunter explained that heroin dependence often starts in the doctor's office and with new legislation that controls the amount of opiate painkillers physicians can prescribe their patients, they shift to heroin use mainly because it's accessible and quite cheap compared to prescription opiates. A dose of heroin (1/10th of a gram) costs $15-$20, while an oxycontin pill costs about $30.
Heroin was the leading cause of accidental death in 2015 and as of last week, the epidemic's local toll has reached 700 opioid-related overdoses and 71 overdose deaths this year. Capt. Kevin Hunter added that overdose deaths typically involve more than one opioid found in the bloodstream, hence they are not strictly limited to heroin or the synthetic, very powerful opioid fentanyl. As drug dealers continue to mix fentanyl with heroin for a more intense ( and potentially fatal) high, people who use fentanyl-laced heroin without even being aware of it are inevitably risking their own lives.
Dr. Daniel Roth, who serves as a chronic pain specialist at Summit Pain Management discussed the increasing number of confirmed HIV and hepatitis C cases in the state, linked to intravenous drug use and emphasized the crucial role of needle exchange programs. Dr. Roth recently led the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health to implement a syringe service program (SSP) held Tuesdays, from 5 to 8 p.m. at 519 Oxford St. in Fort Wayne. Additionally, the Allen County Triad sponsors a year-round pill collection program ( only pills are accepted) with support from local sheriff's and police departments.
Fort Wayne Fire Department Assistant Chief Doug Call stated that firefighters have been successfully administering the opioid overdose reversal medication Narcan or naloxone since August 2015 and as of December 1st, they have administered Narcan to 113 critical patients. Chief Call stressed that Narcan is used on unconscious and unresponsive patients only and although not all overdose-related cardiac arrests can be reversed with this medication, most patients wake up and become responsive within a minute after the administration of Narcan.
Andrea Schroeder also spoke at the Calhoun St. gathering, sharing the heartbreaking story of her daughter's struggle with heroin dependence. In May, her daughter Miriah Herport, who was going through a rough period was reacquainted with an old friend who was a heroin user and 2 months later, her mother started noticing something was wrong with her. In late October, Miriah overdosed on heroin and passed away October 29 after a week on life support, becoming one of the statistics quoted by Capt. Kevin Hunter. Schroader tearfully emphasized that this disease noes not discriminate and it can unmercifully affect all faces and all ages. Opioid rehabilitation resources in Allen County include Parkview Behavioral Health, Fairbanks Addiction Treatment Center ( Indianapolis) and the Lutheran Foundation, which has a 24/7 hotline for people seeking help.