1 You’ve been with the Fort Wayne Police Department for more than 30 years. How do this community’s drug problems today compare with those in the past?
When I first came on the police department in 1989, crack cocaine was a huge problem. Street drug deals involving crack cocaine were common, as were crack houses – which devastated our neighborhoods. The narcotics detectives bought drugs, raided the crack houses and locked people up.
The current drug crisis is different in several ways. The biggest difference is that people are overdosing and dying in large numbers. The other difference is that we have problem-solving courts such as Drug Court, Veteran’s Court, Restoration Court and Hope Probation Court. These courts have been created to do something different than sending people to prison and are helping people who want to quit the cycle of addiction.
I’ve been to a number of Drug Court graduation ceremonies, and I will tell you that these problem-solving courts are making a positive difference in our community. To see and hear the positivity from a person and their family who just completed drug court is a heartwarming experience.
Another difference between now and then is that we have many more drug treatment facilities and options available now to get people the help that they desperately need.
2 Is this area finally turning the corner on the opioid epidemic?
In 2019, our non-fatal drug overdoses were down 22% compared to 2018, from 1,074 to 834. This decline in non-fatal overdoses is good news for our community, but the fatal overdoses will most likely set a record for 2019 as we’re currently at 124 confirmed overdose deaths with at least 45 pending toxicology reports.
I think that our non-fatal overdoses are down because many people have access to and are using Naloxone, the lifesaving opioid reversal drug. We also have more medical assisted treatment facilities in our area, which is very helpful. I think the overdose deaths are up due to two reasons; we’re seeing counterfeit prescription drugs that have fentanyl in them, and we’re seeing fentanyl mixed in with crystal meth and cocaine. While crystal meth typically does not cause a fatal overdose, because we’re seeing it mixed with fentanyl, which is deadly, we’re seeing fatal overdoses with this drug as well.
3 You and others recently told The Journal Gazette’s Matthew LeBlanc the use of stimulant drugs such as meth and cocaine is increasing alarmingly. Do those drugs pose as big a threat as the opioid epidemic? Do you have an idea what the next problem drug might be?
Yes, I believe that these stimulants pose as great a threat as opioids do, due to the fact that they are highly addictive and are difficult to quit once substance use disorder takes hold. Currently, there’s no medical assisted treatment available to help people get off of stimulants like there currently is for people with opioid use disorder. The treatments currently in use for people with stimulant addiction are cognitive behavioral therapy, among others. The Fort Wayne Police Department set a record in 2019 for methamphetamine seizures with 14.28 pounds versus 6.5 pounds in 2018, which was a 120% increase (which was the record in 2018).
I wish I could predict what the next problem drug was going to be. I would say that THC wax is a growing issue. THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the active ingredient in marijuana that gets a person high, and THC wax is a version that typically has THC levels of 80-90%. Studies have shown that teenagers who regularly use high-content THC products have a greater chance of developing psychotic episodes and even schizophrenia.
4 Every parent’s fear is that their children will somehow be drawn into drugs. What can fathers and mothers do to prevent that from happening?
I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve spoken with parents who’ve lost their children to an overdose, and they are always heartbreaking conversations. I tell parents to have candid conversations with their children about the dangers of drugs on a regular basis. I tell parents to know who their child is hanging out with, not just know their names, but talk with and get to know their friends so that the parents can help guide their child away from possible trouble. I also suggest checking their child’s phone on a routine basis, to see who their child is communicating with. And I also tell them that today’s drugs are not the same as the drugs of the 1980s or 1990s. The first time a kid tries a drug could be their last. A good resource for parents is The Lutheran Foundation website, which is www.lookupindiana.org, where parents can find information on drugs, substance use disorder and other issues.
5 Your frequent appearances with Health Commissioner Deborah McMahan and Marcia Haaff of the Lutheran Foundation have educated the community and helped shape the local response to treating substance abusers. Has your public role made the rest of your job easier or harder?
I feel honored to work so closely with Dr. Deb McMahan and Marcia Haaff and know that my public role has made my job much easier.
When the opioid crisis hit us, I made the decision to help educate our community on the seriousness of the drugs involved and what we were seeing on the streets of Fort Wayne. I started giving lectures on what kind of drugs we were seizing and what the current trends were. I felt that knowledge is power, and if I helped educate our community, the community would come together to help with this problem, which they have.
One of the ways that our community is overcoming the issue of substance use disorder is through collaboration and education. Police can’t work in silos; we have to work with other legitimate organizations dealing with substance use disorder, as this is a systemic issue, not just a law enforcement issue. And educating our community is an ongoing issue. Drug trends are constantly changing and giving people the tools they need to stay safe is very important.