Overdoses, fear of synthetic drugs rising

By Chris Hagan
Review Staff Writer
In the past two weeks, firefighters have responded to nearly a half-dozen overdoses, all from opioid drugs.
Four of the most recent have involved both males and females, all of whom have been in their twenties. There have been 40 documented overdoses in the township in 2016.
Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh said a new wave of synthetic drugs could also be creeping into Oakland County.
One is called W-18 and is one of a handful of drugs that law enforcement officials say they have seen in increasing numbers in overdose deaths, although no case has been reported in Michigan yet.
Another is U-47700, or simply U-4, which is eight times stronger than morphine and has been the source of overdoses over the past year in at least 10 states since the first US incident was discovered in 2015.
“It’s coming, and this is where it gets scary, as a result of these people cutting their heroin with U-4 and some other stuff, it’s going to start killing people like it did when they were cutting heroin with Fentanyl,” Narsh said.
“People think they’re getting a regular dose and it kills you.”
Narsh said U-4 was connected to one death in Kent County and nearly 50 deaths in Ohio.
For opioid overdoses, first responders have been using Naloxone, an “opioid antagonist” that works to counteract the overdose by having a stronger affinity to the body’s receptor cells. It knocks off the opioids, like heroin or Vicodin, from the cells for a short time, allowing the person to breathe again.
Though Naloxone works to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, it’s hasn’t been proven to work with these synthetic substances.
It’s what has Narsh and many in law enforcement on edge. Currently there is no testing available by police agencies to identify the synthetic drugs. Chemists also quickly change the chemical make-up of the drug to avoid being discovered.
With the drugs being infused in regular heroin, Narsh says it’s more important than ever that if you know of anyone struggling with opioid addiction to get them help immediately.
“The path to heroin addiction is almost always paved through prescription addiction, and the people that are suffering with prescription addiction aren’t always the people you associate with heroin addiction,” he said.
“There a lot of good people, professional people, that have surgeries and have injuries, who get prescribed pain killers and get addicted to opioids,” Narsh said.
With prescription renewals for pain killers becoming more difficult, heroin becomes a cheap alternative to that opioid.
Narsh and other law enforcement professionals say the easy access to heroin and the potential for synthetic opioids, the potency will increase and ultimately so will the fatality rate.
“A family member has to realize that there are only three places to have a real, honest conversation with a heroin addict, one is in a hospital room, another is in a jail cell, and the third is at gravesite,” Narsh said.
“My advice is to reach out to the county services available, through their clergy, through the hospital, but find rehabilitative efforts and compel and force that family member into it, or they’re going to have that conversation in one of those three places,” Narsh said.
But what Narsh really wants to see is a harder look at prevention and rehabilitation for opioid addiction. He wants to see better treatment that puts law enforcement, first responders, and the healthcare community ahead of the drug curve, where those professions seem to be chronically behind.