Overdoses ‘out of control’ as stronger drugs overtake users

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published January 11, 2021

 The Warren Police Department has issued life-saving NARCAN kits for uniformed patrol officers. The kits contain two doses of NARCAN,  protective gloves and a mask.

The Warren Police Department has issued life-saving NARCAN kits for uniformed patrol officers. The kits contain two doses of NARCAN, protective gloves and a mask.

File photo by Brian Louwers

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WARREN — It was January 2017. Ed Hanna was working as a Warren Fire Department paramedic when his squad was dispatched to a mobile home park after the apparent overdose of a teenage girl.

“Once we started working on her, and going through the process, doing our evaluation on her, and then finding out it was drug related, we gave her everything we had in the box,” Hanna said.

Tragically, the girl didn’t make it.

“It was already too late,” Hanna said.

Now the department’s chief of emergency medical services, he said Warren medics dealt with between 209 and about 300 runs annually in 2019 and 2020 where lifesaving Narcan was administered intravenously, often with effective results, after an opioid overdose.

“It is an issue. It’s been an issue for years,” Hanna said. “Plus, there’s been some modifications with regard to the narcotics that increased the strength.”

Hanna said IV Narcan works much faster than the nasal spray carried by all Warren police officers and sometimes kept in the homes of heavy drug users at great risk of death by overdose. Still, with the addition of superpowered narcotics including fentanyl and carfentanil, it’s sometimes not enough to save a life.

Even when it is, first responders have to use more and more Narcan to bring an overdosed patient back from the brink of death.

“We’re using 2, 4 and 6 milligrams, just to get people to start breathing again. The potency for it (the drugs) is through the roof,” Hanna said.

He said he’s been on the job for 23 years and that today’s hard drugs, like heroin, are even more dangerous now.

“It wasn’t cut like it is today,” Hanna said.

Deputy Commissioner Robert Ahrens of the Warren Police Department said the number of overdoses patrol officers are dealing with was “out of control,” but that the number of deaths was being reduced by the use of Narcan.

Police Commissioner William Dwyer said overdose deaths were always there during the five years he led the Detroit Police Department’s Narcotics Unit, but “not as many as we’re experiencing now.”

Investigators said the combination of new drug dealers in the area who are looking to lure new customers with a dangerous increase in their product’s potency, the careless mixing of narcotics or just too much of something as strong as fentanyl in a batch of dope could lead to a sharp increase in the number of overdoses and resulting deaths.

Dwyer said calls now sometimes come in three or four times a day.

“We’ve got an epidemic out there with this fentanyl-laced heroin or cocaine. They put it out there to give their clients a better high, but they don’t know how to cut it,” Dwyer said.

“Narcan is something new that we’re fortunate to have. It’s another tool in their toolbox to save lives. We’re saving lives every day,” the commissioner added.

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