The Journal Gazette
Saturday, January 23, 2021 1:00 am

Overdoses for '20 at or near record levels

Nonfatals hit high; fatals not in yet

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

Nonfatal drug overdoses were at an all-time high in 2020, eclipsing 2017 when fentanyl's grip was first noted in Fort Wayne and the nation.

And, depending on the outcomes of pending toxicology tests, fatal overdoses could beat the five-year high established last year at 144.

Currently, drug and alcohol overdose deaths for Allen County are at 120 for 2020, but there are 42 deaths awaiting toxicology results, Capt. Kevin Hunter of the Fort Wayne Police Department's Vice and Narcotics unit, said.

The numbers released Friday by Hunter show about a 50% leap in nonfatal overdoses from 2019. In 2019, there were 829 overdoses; in 2020, there were 1,243. 

Hunter said it's unlikely all of the pending toxicology tests will be classified as overdoses. Most overdoses are attributed to fentanyl. 

The rise in fatal and nonfatal overdoses can be linked to the novel coronavirus and the flood of fake OxyContin and oxycodone on the streets right now. All of those contain fentanyl,” Hunter said. 

The coronavirus forced people indoors, creating boredom and a feeling of “what else am I going to do,” Hunter said. 

Drug seizures made by the Vice and Narcotics and Gang and Violent Crimes units and police detectives reflect trends in drug use. Drug seizures were nearly double what they were in 2019 at 89,074 grams.

Heroin seizures were down slightly from 2019 at 318 grams, but fentanyl seizures were more than double. In 2019, detectives seized 423 grams of fentanyl; last year, 905 grams.

“We just haven't seen a lot of heroin this year. Fentanyl is more popular and more available,” Hunter said. “We are mainly seeing it in pill form at a cost of about $10 to $30 a pill.” 

Three to four years ago, fentanyl was considered highly dangerous to breathe or touch. However, Hunter said nonusers should be OK if they wash the drug off their hands right away. Users develop a tolerance to the drug and are less affected. 

Seizure of marijuana products, still illegal in Indiana, rose in 2020 from the year before.

Marijuana is “very, very popular. We're seeing it come from just about everywhere – Michigan, California, Washington state, Oregon, places that are selling it legally,” Hunter said. 

Police seized 4,326 grams of THC edibles, more than 10 times the amount seized in 2019. THC edibles are typically gummies and candy bars, Hunter said. Seizures of THC wax, another popular form of marijuana that resembles peanut brittle, were about the same. THC is the hallucinogenic component in marijuana. 

“Just a little bit is going to go a very long way,” Hunter said of the wax. 

Seizures of synthetic marijuana, often referred to as Spice, were up about 50% at 1,625 grams. Spice is popular with the homeless community, Hunter said, and can be as cheap as $5 a smoke. 

All forms of marijuana today approach hallucinogenic levels compared to marijuana in the 1970s. Then, the THC level was at about 4% to 8%; now, it's usually between 80% and 90%, Hunter said. 

“Think about taking an almost pure form of that (marijuana). It's going to have different effects, more of a hallucinogenic drug rather than a calming effect (producing) very high anxiety and, sometimes, psychotic episodes,” Hunter said. 

Seizures of methamphetamine were nearly a third of seizures in 2019 at 2,657 grams, but that doesn't mean the drug is less popular. 

“Things kind of slowed down when COVID kicked in,” Hunter said, “and we had the civil unrest.” 

Drug seizures of Ecstasy, also known as the hallucinogen MDMA, LSD and psilocybin were also down or even. 

Cocaine at approximately $150 a gram is more expensive than other drugs and police aren't seeing as much cocaine as other illegal substances, Hunter said. 

Seizures of crack cocaine were 184.1 grams and cocaine, 347 grams, about half what was taken in 2019.

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