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County addiction crisis widening

September 20, 2018

Allen County’s opioid epidemic is evolving into a broader addiction problem with methamphetamine gaining popularity, Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health officials say.

“It’s medically, socially and economically really devastating our community,” Health Commissioner Deborah McMahon told the Fort Wayne City Council on Tuesday night. “The crisis is changing. We’re evolving into not an opioid crisis, but now it’s an any-drug-I-can-get-my-hands-on crisis, and the drug they’re choosing now is meth.”

Opioids are still a major issue. The Fort Wayne Police Department seized 711 grams of heroin last year and have already seized 1,511 grams as of Aug. 31 : a record, police Capt. Kevin Hunter said. Also, a recent Department of Health study found that nearly 80 percent of overdose victims from 2008 to 2017 had some kind of opioid in their system at the time of death.

Changes to prescribing rules mean doctors are prescribing opioid pain medication half as often and in amounts half as large. Opioids obtained illegally from a dealer now account for most overdose deaths, Hunter said.

But that doesn’t mean overdoses are decreasing dramatically. In 2017, Allen County had 1,200 overdoses and 127 resulting in deaths. This year, there have been 56 overdose deaths and an additional 32 still pending toxicology results.

“It’s slowing a little, but not by much,” Hunter said.

However, police have noticed an increase in the amount of methamphetamine seized over the last two years, Hunter said. In 2016, police seized 1,400 grams of meth. In 2017, that amount increased to 2,156 grams. So far this year, police have taken a record 2,517 grams of meth off the street, Hunter said.

“Meth is really the big drug on the street,” he said.

Methamphetamine is particularly concerning, McMahon said, because there is currently no treatment similar to treatments for heroin addiction, “other than some cognitive behavioral therapy,” McMahon said.

The drug is common and popular, typically imported from Mexico and easy to obtain, Hunter said. Narcan does not reverse the effects of a meth overdose.

“We really need significant legislative, funding and research support to be able to handle this next wave of the addiction crisis,” McMahon said.

City Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, who is a doctor, said there are stigmas that the council can help fight against. The first stigma that must be eliminated, Crawford said, is that drug addicts are bad people. The other concerns medication-assisted treatment.

“It’s not a whole lot different than giving somebody a nicotine patch to try to get them off of smoking. You don’t want them on any drug, but it might be a bridge to getting them off that drug,” Crawford said. “So as opinion and thought leaders in the community, we need to fight those stigmas.”

dgong@jg.net

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