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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, October 19, 2017 1:00 am

Watch for drug use, parents implored

Danger much greater than in years past, officials say

RON SHAWGO | The Journal Gazette

At the height of an opioid epidemic, parents need to talk to their children about drugs more than ever.

That was the message Wednesday from representatives of several Fort Wayne and Allen County agencies that have monitored the rise in drug overdoses and deaths in recent years.

The drugs today are much stronger and more deadly than those that might have been used recreationally by the parents of today's children, said Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner.

“What I want to tell you is, we're not in the 1980s anymore,” she said. “We live in a very, very different era. Drugs in 2017 are not the drugs of 1980.”

Members of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health, the Fort Wayne Police Department, McMillen Health and Three Rivers Ambulance Authority held a news conference to urge parents to observe their children and search the house for drugs if they suspect drug abuse.

McMahan said children are under stress more than ever, and some turn to drugs to feel good. Even the first experiment with drugs can be deadly, she and others said. McMahan pointed to a “real crisis” with a synthetic drug known as spice and used like marijuana.

New versions of spice are coming on the market that are more powerful than the last, said Ben Goldberry, director of clinical service for Three Rivers Ambulance Authority. The drug can cause seizures, brain damage and death, he said. McMahan said she will be working to strengthen state criminal laws regarding spice.

A process to create a drug called wax takes marijuana and extracts tetrahydrocannabinol, the intoxicant in marijuana. The result, which looks like honey or peanut brittle, is 95 percent THC, Fort Wayne police Capt. Kevin Hunter said.

“If you think for just one second your child might be hiding drugs and using drugs – a parent would feel so bad if they thought there was a problem and they didn't do something about it and the child ends up dying,” Hunter said.

There were 933 “drug poisonings” from January through September, Hunter said. There were 550 during the same time last year. There were 68 overdose deaths last year, compared with 73 so far this year, Hunter said.

As he has on past occasions, Hunter warned about heroin that has been mixed with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid about 100 times stronger than morphine.

“So if somebody thinks they're out buying heroin, they're actually getting into fentanyl, and it could kill them the first time they try it,” he said.

This year to date, the ambulance service has responded to 460 people who needed naloxone, an opiate-overdose reversal drug sold under the brand name Narcan. Eleven were age 18 or younger, Goldberry said.

“That might not sound like a lot, but the number I really want you to focus on is the thousands of people in our community that may have some form of opioid addiction, and how many of those people have children living in their homes?” Goldberry said. If parents aren't having a conversation with them, he added, they're hearing about it from friends and other people who might not have good information.

McMillen Health officials Nicole Christlief and Linda Hathaway urged parents to keep drugs in a locked cabinet. Most teens say home medicine cabinets are their source for drugs, and most prescription drug abusers say they started before age 15, according the agency.

rshawgo@jg.net