Dozens Overdose on Synthetic Drugs At/Near Homeless Shelter

person on stretcher

Last week, dozens of homeless people overdosed at (and around) a homeless shelter in Indianapolis, Indiana. The site of the crisis was Wheeler Mission, a Christian nonprofit which describes itself as a temporary emergency shelter to homeless and disadvantaged men. Wheeler Mission’s Chief Development Officer Steve Kerr told the media that most of the people overdosed inside or nearby. “We’ve experienced overdoses in the facility before but never ever to this degree.”

The shelter, which also operates a drug treatment center in Indianapolis, believes that somebody distributed synthetic drugs (Spice, K2, or bath salts), possibly laced with PCP to guests at the shelter. A person in a security video smoking the substance dropped to the ground immediately and went into convulsions. One man tried to bite another man in another video the police viewed.

Police arrested 63-year-old Melvin Cannon and 59-year-old Nathaniel Davis of “possession of and dealing in a synthetic drug or synthetic drug lookalike substance.”

Synthetic Overdoses are a Medical Emergency

While staff on-site attempted to administer Narcan to help the overdose victims, police and other first responders were tasked with keeping others within a two block radius alive. Police said they handled 25 overdose calls, and the effects of the toxic concoction lasted up to 48 hours. People who were hospitalized had overdose symptoms consistent with the results of Spice.

Synthetic drugs, however, are almost never the same formulation twice. Created to give a “cheap high” and usually marketed on the street to vulnerable populations such as the homeless, synthetic drugs are unfortunately a trend that is unlikely to end soon.

A week ago, four people overdosed on Spice in New Haven, Connecticut in 24 hours, the first event of its kind. “Every time a synthetic drug enters the market, just like many street drugs, there’s always a bit of a different formulation. There is always a chance that the drug may is laced with something even more toxic. We’re seeing a lot of these drugs being laced with other drugs, PCP, Carfentanil, things to boost the dosage,” New Haven Fire Chief John Alston told WTOL News.

Overdose symptoms of synthetic drugs can range from seizures, a racing heart, unconsciousness, and other immediate feelings of illness or sickness.

Office of National Drug Control Policy Needs New Drug Czar

The Trump Administration recently employed 24-year-old Taylor Weyeneth to be the deputy chief of staff (also known as the drug czar) of the Office of National Drug Control Policy or ONDCP. While many addiction advocates were hoping the Administration would be filled by an experienced professional, the appointment of Mr. Weyeneth proved to be profoundly flawed.

Before Mr. Weyeneth’s work for the Trump administration, there were only two jobs from which he gleaned experience the only position he’d held since graduating from college in 2016. One of these tasks was working on President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the Washington Post reported earlier this month. Aside from his young age, and lack of experience in the field of mental health or addiction, this young man’s lack of knowledge also spilled into the jobs he listed on his resume. Included in the resume was a post he held at a law firm, where the attorneys terminated him for being a “no show” just seven months into the position.

Like many young people first entering the world of employment, he had three versions of his resume. However, each resume had discrepancies that at best, were inaccurate. At worst, they were meant to deceive and claim that he had more experience than he did, even as the experience listed was meager. For example, on all three resumes, Weyeneth asserted he had a master’s degree from Fordham University. The Washington Post spoke with a university spokesman who told them that Weyeneth had not completed his coursework and did not earn the degree.

How did such an inexperienced person get appointed to the commission? The question remains unanswered. Weyeneth graduated from college in May 2016 and was quickly named a White House liaison to the drug office the following March. By July, he was promoted to deputy chief of staff in July. His resume noted no experience in the field of health and human services, mental health or addiction.

Although Mr. Weyeneth has announced his plans to step down by the end of the month, his appointment is a cause for alarm in a department meant to set policy and recommend funding and programs for states, cities, and counties struggling with an epidemic with no end in sight.

ONDCP Needs an Experienced Drug Czar to Tackle Addiction

In the addiction field, honesty is paramount, and policy needs to be set by experienced mental health professionals, medical professionals, and people experienced in the area of addiction and recovery. It is unclear who is in charge in the interim once Mr. Weyenth’s post is vacant; however, the ONDCP website lists Richard Baum as Acting Director. Mr. Baum has a wealth of experience in the drug policy field as an academic and serves as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt Graduate School of Public Policy where he teaches students about American drug policy.

Every year, ONDCP works on and plans a National Drug Control Strategy, which outlines the presidential Administration’s efforts to reduce drug use, manufacturing and trafficking. The policy also focuses on lowering drug-related crimes, overdoses, and other health consequences. In 2017, the agency was still acting on former President Obama’s plan.

Using Marijuana for Morning Sickness is Dangerous

A new study shows that more women than ever are turning to marijuana for morning sickness, although there is no medical evidence to show that this is safe. In fact, experts are warning that using marijuana while with child is dangerous for the unborn.

The study, which followed trends in pregnant women in California, is a cause for alarm for many reasons. For one thing, the marijuana use referenced in the study was self-reported, which means that study participants likely under-reported their use of cannabis. An earlier study by the same organization also found marijuana use among pregnant women rose from 2.37% in 2002 to 3.85% in 2014.

The numbers may sound small, but the worries of medical providers are not. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, published an editorial explaining the many dangers. Few things are known about the effects of marijuana use on fetal development. However, with reports that women should avoid sugar, caffeine, and even specific candies such as licorice to help with normal fetal growth, it seems that marijuana use would be an automatic “no” for pregnant women. Most of the women in these studies were younger, typically ages 18-24, and may not be aware of the dangers.

Many people are suspicious of prescriptions and worry the dangers of “big pharma” drugs are more pronounced than the dangers of marijuana. Marijuana is touted as a natural, safe alternative to other medications, and more women seem to think it’s less dangerous than medical treatments for morning sickness and other ailments. It is also possible that many of these pregnant young women are addicted to marijuana, and have trouble quitting usage on their own.

Marijuana is a drug. It has mostly been viewed as a recreational drug in the past 10 years, and few medical studies can back up the medicinal usage for pregnant women.

marijuana for morning sickness

What the Research on Using Marijuana During Pregnancy Says

No research or recommendations, even from medicinal marijuana providers, suggest that marijuana usage during pregnancy is a good idea.

In fact, research from the Centers for Disease and Control shows pregnant women who use marijuana put their child at risk of low birth weight and developmental problems. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuses, animal studies have linked marijuana use to miscarriages, but no human evidence currently shows how large this risk is. However, research shows that women who use marijuana while pregnant are 2.3 times as likely to have a stillborn child.

Using drugs while pregnant is more dangerous than drinking coffee or soda while pregnant, and it is not a solution to your medical needs. Whatever you put in your body, you are putting in a vulnerable, not-fully-developed body that hasn’t even taken its first breath. If you are having severe morning sickness, talk to your obstetrician or primary care doctor. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women avoid marijuana while trying to get pregnant, during pregnancy, and while they are still breastfeeding. Using marijuana for morning sickness can be dangerous to your baby’s health.

If you are pregnant and having trouble ceasing drug or alcohol use, there is help available. You’re not alone, and you’re not a bad person. Addiction is a disease and it can be treated with the right support network in place. Please call a treatment center on this page or your local Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous hotline. You don’t have to use if you don’t want to, and you don’t have to make the journey alone.

 

Fake Street Pills Made With Deadly Opiates Now Common

overdose on fake street pills

People addicted to Oxycontin often resort to desperate measures, including buying their pills on the street. Unfortunately, addicted persons who buy these pills are discovering that they’re fake street pills. They are now being linked to carfentanil and cyclopropyl fentanyl overdoses in New Jersey and across the country.  New Jersey is just one of many states that has experienced deadly incidents of street pills – typically sold as Oxycontin or Hydrocodone — giving their users more than they bargained for.

Luckily, in Holmdel and Long Branch New Jersey, investigators were able to seize the pills before anyone got hurt – as far as they know, anyway. (It takes months for a state Bureau of investigation to tally the figures that include deaths from any illicit drugs.) The seizure was made last week, and the oxycodone pills were found to not contain oxycodone at all. In fact, they contained carfentanil, a synthetic opiate that is 10,000 times as strong as morphine. The drug is so strong that a non-drug user can experience an overdose if just a speck or two is absorbed through their skin. It’s used to sedate elephants and is entirely unsafe for people.

Some of the fakes seized in New Jersey also contained cyclopropyl fentanyl, which has no known medical use for humans or animals and is said to be about 50 times stronger than heroin.

Cyclopropyl fentanyl is also a dangerous new trend among street pills fakes – like carfentanil, it’s a powerful opioid. While recently found in New Jersey, this drug is tied to several mass overdose incidents across the US. Georgia linked the drug to an incident that flooded emergency rooms for 48 hours last July, with several fatal overdoses that never made it to the hospital.

Fake pills are often sold on the street, and US authorities suspect they originate in China. The carfentanil and cyclopropyl fentanyl pills found in Monmouth County, New Jersey were meant to masquerade as Oxycodone, and both were a bright white pill marked A/215, the same number that prescription drug website show as Oxycodone.

There is virtually no way for drug users to differentiate fake street pills from real pills, although sometimes they crumble easily or have a tinge of yellow, according to authorities.

These powerful and deadly opiates have also found their way into heroin as well.

If someone you know and love is addicted to prescription painkillers or opioids, it’s important to encourage them and/or their friends to carry naloxone, a lifesaving opiate antagonist that can reverse an overdose. Let them know there is help whenever they are ready, and encourage them to contact a treatment or 12-step hotline to explore their options. Sometimes a list of phone numbers kept in their wallet may be effective to help them when they’re desperate and in need of a person who understands what they’re going through.

People do get clean, and they do recover.

Across the US, Diversion Programs Spread Hope

As Americans become more aware that addiction is a disease and not a crisis of character, law enforcement and the judicial system have started to stand up and take notice. Rather than lock up the masses of people with a substance abuse disorder, many law enforcement agencies now offer diversion programs. Diversion programs are run in different ways, but they all focus on helping an addicted person improve their lives and hopefully break free from their disease.

One such example is a program that has been in place for 10 years, in Essex Massachusetts. Started by a DA personally affected by the opioid epidemic, a total of 117 people from 22 communities took part in the drug diversion program in 2016, with a success rate averages 40 to 50 percent. (In the world of substance abuse disorders, this is an excellent rate. Treating these issues can be incredibly challenging.)

The DA goes over cases that are drug-related to find arrestees that may have suffered from addiction. From there, they are offered a range of free services, including medication-assisted therapy, residential treatment, and individual and group therapy. Completing the program prevents them from being prosecuted. They must commit to attending all of the meetings and therapy for at least 6 months, but many of them stay to graduate from treatment. Some people don’t make it the full 6 months, but the people who run the program know they’re saving lives. Some of the attendees just aren’t ready to get clean, but they might have another chance if they get arrested again.

New Diversion Programs Forming All the Time

In Worcester, Massachusetts, the newly-launched Buyer Diversion Treatment Alternative steers lower-level drug offenders away from courts and prisons and into recovery.

And in Lucas County, Ohio, one of the hardest-hit areas suffering from opiate addiction in the US, a $1.7 million state grant was just awarded fund a diversion program for people convicted of low-level felonies in Common Pleas Court.

The Targeted Community Alternative to Prison program, better known as T-CAP, gives judges the discretion of keeping offenders in local facilities rather than sending them to prison.

There are many more locations that have started to change the way they view addiction. Diversion programs give people a chance to get clean and away from the shackles of their substance abuse disorder. Many of the programs offer drug treatment for free or low fees. People in these programs may or may not stay clean, but they are there long enough for the seed to be planted. Many of them learn what life is like for those in recovery, and they have at least the desire to stay clean. Programs like these are planting the seeds of hope for those who suffer from addiction to stay clean.

Washington State Debates Using Medications for Addiction Treatment

There has been much talk recently in the state of Washington about the opioid epidemic. A two-day summit was recently held with two main focuses:

  • Reduction of legally purchased drugs
  • Medications in the treatment of opioid addiction

However equally important both topics are the questions surrounding the use of medications for treatment is gaining more attention.

A handful of people that work in law enforcement spoke about the importance of treating opioid addiction as a ‘medical condition’ and it was their general consensus that the drugs should be removed from the shadows of society. They agreed that using medications has proven to reduce deaths and help people lead functional lives.

Much Debate About Using Medications

The debate over using medications to help addicts recover has been very contentious over the last two decades. however, prescribing medications to opioid addicts is still the preferred method for treatment towards rehabilitation. Experts will agree that a person who has developed an opioid addiction should be treated like any other patient with a sickness.

Providing medications is often the first step in recovery as well as the first line of defense against an overdose. The goal is to restore a degree of normalcy to the daily life of the addict. Some notable medications for opioid addiction treatment are as follows:

  • Naloxone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Suboxone
  • Methadone

They use some medications like methadone to alleviate the pain of withdrawals and limit euphoria. This classification of drugs allows addicts to perform tasks as rudimentary as going to the store and as important as performing duties in the workplace. Otherwise while under the influence of opioids the addicts have difficulties with most normal activities.

Some medications are used to relieve immediate complications from opioids. This classification of drugs is used to prevent possible death and revive patients who have overdosed.

Various Medications Used:

  • Naloxone, has shown a reduction in overdose deaths by 6%
  • Buprenorphine, showed better than a 50% reduction in deaths
  • Suboxone, showed to alleviate dependence
  • Methadone, alleviates pain without the euphoria associated with opioids

Limited Access for Meds

In the state of Washington buprenorphine programs have reached full capacity and therefore have illustrated the need for improved access to medications, namely buprenorphine and methadone. It will take some very serious consideration by policy makers to provide more resources and solve this growing need.

Saving Lives with Naloxone

The importance of Naloxone in saving lives has been proven. When addicts have overdosed the administering of Naloxone is the difference between life and death. There is little argument surrounding it’s effectiveness. Any doubt about Naloxone will come under scrutiny from the medical community.

There are some reasons to speculate about using medications to treat addiction. The most well known medication methadone relieves pain and is a detoxifier yet is habit forming and can be dangerous if used improperly. However, methadone has been the forerunner for a long time and it’s usefulness in helping addicts cope has been proven time and time again regardless of it’s adverse effects.

There are multiple approaches to recovery with different levels of effectiveness but the use of medications has been proven to be the very effective. These drugs have been shown to save lives and or allow the addict to maintain a degree of productivity in their daily lives.

Pennsylvania Gets Boost in Addiction Recovery Funding

The Health and Human Services Administration made the announcement that $485,000,000 will be granted towards funding addiction recovery in America’s battle with opioids. The money will be distributed throughout the United States with Pennsylvania getting the fourth largest disbursement. 

Why Pennsylvania?

The disbursement of funds was determined by factoring which states had the most severe problems with addictions and how each state presented their proposals for the grant money. Pennsylvania health administrators were clear in stating that opioid addiction is the number one public health problem in their state.

Reports have indicated that there were more than 3,500 overdoses that led to deaths in the state of Pennsylvania in 2015. This is a 20% increase in deaths from opioids in 2014 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tom Wolf, Governor of Pennsylvania, estimates this number will go up even higher in 2016 and in 2017 if left unattended. The most common problematic drug in 2015 in Pennsylvania was heroin while the next highest number of overdoses leading to death was by the prescription drug fentanyl. The Governor’s concern for his state has prompted some important initiatives to combat the epidemic. Their efforts are being substantiated by the CDC.

Opioid Crisis of Epidemic Proportions

The CDC has been watching the crisis grow in Pennsylvania. They have noted that from 2014 to 2016 a sharp rise in deaths from overdosing in Pennsylvania. The state is clearly in a crisis and has made some strides in fighting the epidemic through various programs and increasing the availability of drugs. Some of the new programs are listed below:

  • Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP)
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) 

The programs will be embedded to the already existing health care facilities and distribution networks making their implementation more streamline. As well the programs will be available to all economic sectors of Pennsylvania not just in the urban areas as was the common practice for these measures in the past. This tactical and inclusive approach was a key factor in determining Pennsylvania’s  monetary award from the Human Health Services.

A portion of the grant money will still be allocated towards dealing with the the process of “Warm handoffs”. This is the process of identifying an individual’s unique problem with addiction and then directing that individual to the appropriate treatment and recovery specialist. This method has the recommendations of doctors and is very accepted by the professionals who work in addiction recovery.

Tiger Woods’ DUI An Issue of Vicodin Not Alcohol


Tiger Woods has recently been arrested for a DUI but his blood alcohol level was 0.0%. It has been determined by law enforcement agents Mr. Woods was taking prescription pain killers due to his recent back surgery. It was determined that the medications were the cause of his impairment. The list of pharmaceuticals that he has been prescribed are below:

  • Soloxine
  • Vicodin
  • Turox

Vicodin is a highly addictive prescription painkiller that is commonly distributed. Turox is an anti-inflammatory drug. Soloxine a drug used for dogs with hyperthyroidism. It has been shown that the synergy of these drugs can lead to serious complications with health. In some cases the combination of such drugs have even led to death. However it is the Vicodin that is the most dangerous drug in this group.

Mr. Woods’ arrest gives a signal for Americans to be on alert in regards to their safety on the roads. There is a rising rate in accidents ending in fatalities due to drivers under the influence of opioids. Therefore not only alcohol related deaths in automobile accidents are the concern these days. Furthermore the combination of alcohol and prescription pain killers are of extreme concern to public safety.

Even without this deadly combination of drugs the leading cause for impairment are the opioids which stand alone as a major factor in a person’s inability to properly function behind the wheel. As in the case of Tiger Woods who was found asleep while in the driver’s seat. His slumber was directly due to the effects of the highly addictive opioid Vicodin.

Society is fortunate that Mr. Woods’ incident was only an arrest and not a serious accident. The statistics are unfortunately negative in regards to the actual deaths caused by prescription opioid related car accidents:

  • 2014, 9,967 people died in alcohol related crashes
  • 1/3 of all related fatalities in the USA from alcohol
  • 20% of drivers killed in car accidents tested positive for drugs
  • 2010  11% of car accidents with fatalities by drugged driver

While drugs purchased on the streets like heroin adds considerably to the death toll, the largest increase in deaths are related to prescription opiates such as OxyContin, Vicodin and methadone. The number of deaths from methadone increased by a factor of 7 between 1999 and 2006, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Florida is Ground Zero for Patient Brokering Arrests

With the most recent addition of Amanda LaFrance arrested in Florida for steering patients to treatment centers in return for cash kickbacks, Florida is far and away the epicenter of this illegal activity.

Amanda, who is 25, was caught in a government sting intended at chipping away at this unethical practice is notable for her young age, but not for the size of her crime. Her alleged transgression of receiving $6,750 pales in comparison to the types of figures that ringleader James Kigar was moving around (the main operator of Whole Life Recovery, which is the drug rehab at the center of the controversy).

Many Ask, “What is the Big Deal About a Referral Fee?”

The practice of brokering patients is, in short, getting financial payment for referring patients to a specific treatment center. If this does not sound like much of a crime to you, then you are not alone.  The practice of paying “kickbacks” for treatment referrals might seem logical, but there are strict regulations surrounding referring patients to get medical care.  The law is intended to keep referrals going to destinations that have the patient’s best interest in mind, not the finances of the person doing the referring.

“Addicts Helping Addicts”

The saying goes in the 12-step Meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous that it is made up of “addicts helping addicts.” It would seem to be a grave violation of this ethos to sell someone’s treatment to the highest bidder rather than truly recommend what might help them.  What makes Amanda LaFrance’s crime a little more tragic and unexpected was that she was in fact merely three years removed from entering treatment for her own addiction. Amanda then subsequently had a child with fellow recovering addict Deon Hill. In the interim they have both relapsed and Deon Hill has been charged with armed robbery.

The arrests have netted many in the Palm Beach area but there are similar charge being prepared in the Southern California area and no doubt many other hotbeds of addiction treatment centers.

 

Canada Struggling With Influx of Fentanyl

Canadian MapCanada has been recently inundated with Fentanyl, which is an incredibly potent opiate painkiller that is very popular with those addicted to narcotics.

Recently, one article in particular seems to encapsulate how serious the problem is: A Killer High: How Canada Got Addicted to Fentanyl.

This article chronicles the pain suffered by the survivors of those who overdose, and also features excellent reporting about how easy it is to obtain the drug online.

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