New task force to tackle heroin epidemic

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Heroin is becoming a nationwide epidemic and Fort Wayne is no exception.  Now the new Allen County Opiate Task Force puts police and health care providers all the same table in an effort to streamline the process for addicts to get help.

HeroinSeizures_ToJuly2015_Graph
Source: Fort Wayne Police Department

“We have a heroin problem in Allen County. It’s here,” Megan Reust, the director of communications for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department, said.

There’s been an increase in heroin seizures by the Fort Wayne Police Department every year for the last seven years, but from January to July 2015, the number of seizures has already almost doubled all of last year.

“The amounts we’ve seized this year alone are staggering and I don’t see any signs of it letting up soon,” Capt. Kevin Hunter with FWPD’s Vice and Narcotics department said.

One reason given for that spike is that people addicted to prescription pain killers switch to heroin when their medications run out.

“It’s cheap and easy to get right now,” Hunter said.

Dick Boggess, a licensed clinical addictions counselor at the Bowen Center said Dr. William Hedrick’s arrest is also contributing to the increase in heroin use. The Fort Wayne pain doctor is charged with over-prescribing pain medications.

“[When he was arrested] the opiates being prescribed into the market, if you will, those pills dried up and heroin has become an option for the opiate dependent folks,” Boggess said.

Hunter added that one of the heroin dealers recently arrested used to be one of Dr. Hedrick’s patients.

The Allen County Opiate Task Force will try to reverse the growing heroin problem. The task force has representatives from law enforcement, public health, mental and other health care providers.

“Law enforcement sees what they see. ER doctors see what they see and so we’re creating an open line of communication to put all the puzzle pieces together to see the whole picture,” Reust said. “We want a mindful, meaningful approach to making a difference in Allen County.”

Heroin addictions are gripping and the withdrawal is awful.

“It’s pretty significant. Like having the flu times 20. It’s very uncomfortable and lasts a few days,” Boggess said. “And there’s the mental obsession that will be there forever. They have to take their medicine for their chronic disease in the form of meetings and church to keep their thinking in the right vein.”

Hunter said heroin addiction is unlike any other drug.

“I thought meth was bad. Heroin is worse. It takes over people’s lives and they’ll do anything to get it,” he said. “We had some overdose deaths recently and one of the people that died actually witnessed someone else use it and die and still used that same drug and died as well. That’s how strong that addiction is.”

In the last few months, there have been five overdose deaths that police know of in Fort Wayne. Some of those were actually from the drug, fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and is much more potent than heroin.

“It only takes 150 micrograms to overdose. That’s the equivalent to two or three grains of salt. Not much at all,” Hunter said. “If you’re used to taking a certain amount of heroin and you take that same amount of fentanyl, it’s going to kill you.”

One hope is that the task force can streamline the system to get addicts help more quickly.

“What we’re trying to do is not pay for people to be incarcerated but help them get their life back in order,” Boggess said.

The task force is still in its early stages of developing a formal plan of attack against the heroin problem, but it might include coming at it from several angles.

“We’re taking a holistic approach, from what education students get in schools, to how to get care to addicted pregnant moms and access to Narcan,” Reust said.

Narcan reverses a heroin overdose. The medication is on ambulances and people can now get prescriptions to have it. NewsChannel 15’s been told the Fort Wayne Fire Department will also have Narcan on every truck, but an official announcement hasn’t happened yet.

“That’s huge. They’re often the first responders on the scene. The sooner they can get that Narcan in the system the better off that person is,” Hunter said.

Narcan will also reverse a fentanyl overdose, but Hunter said a higher dose is needed to take the opioid receptors away.

Anyone who needs help with an addiction problem can call the Parkview Behavioral Health Help Line at (800) 284-8439.

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