VIDEOS: Widespread heroin overdoses in region, one of them fatal

The heroin epidemic was hammered home when Jennings County officials dealt with so many overdoses — including one fatal one — that for a time they ran out of the overdose antidote Narcan.

As many as 13 people overdosed in Jennings County in just a few hours Tuesday from heroin that may have been laced with other dangerous materials.

Among the victims was a 52-year-old woman from Country Squire Lakes subdivision near North Vernon who died after receiving two doses of the drug antidote Narcan late Tuesday night, Jennings County Sheriff’s deputies said.

Overdose victims included as many as four Jennings County teenagers who were saved with Narcan.

The Jennings teens, ranging in age from 16 to 18, were taken to St. Vincent Jennings Hospital. The 18-year-old among them was arrested for possession of a controlled substance. The three minors were released.

In Jackson County, at least four overdoses were tied to what was described by police as a bad batch of heroin, leaving Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott with one major fear: that it will happen again.

“This is dangerous,” Seymour Assistant Police Chief Craig Hayes said. “It can kill you. It is killing people.”

There were at least 17 heroin overdose victims in Jackson and Jennings counties. One overdose case was reported in neighboring Bartholomew County, although police did not know if it was related to the others.

Police are trying to get the word out to other heroin users that they might have obtained the deadly heroin concoction not realizing it possibly contains a tranquilizer meant for large animals — with mere grains of the substance lethal to humans.

Lt. Mike Mowery, who worked all day Tuesday and then into Wednesday as the number of overdoses climbed in Jennings County, said off-duty officers were called in to help as the overdose calls escalated Tuesday night. Backup paramedic units also were called in, he said.

The cases occurred throughout Jennings County — with the victims ranging in age from 16 to 30, the majority of them male, Sheriff Gary Driver said. The greatest number of overdoses, six, occurred in the Hayden area in western Jennings County, police call logs show.

At least one overdose victim was brought to St. Vincent Jennings Hospital by family members, and Driver suspected that a few others were taken to the hospital in private vehicles as well.

Driver said Jennings deputies went from home to home responding to specific overdose calls as they came in, with nine victims receiving multiple doses of Narcan and being sent to the hospital to be checked, Driver said.

The Country Squire Lakes resident received two doses of Narcan and deputies performed CPR, but she was later pronounced dead at the hospital, Mowery said. Her identity was not immediately released.

Jennings County Prosecutor Brian Belding said during a Wednesday news conference that investigators have some leads into who may have been selling the drugs in Jennings County, but officials are not going to immediately disclose who those individuals. That’s so investigators can determine where the drugs are coming from and how they are being distributed.

Without the quick response to revive Jennings County overdose victims, Belding said additional lives would have been lost.

“They are playing Russian Roulette. One time is all it takes,” Belding said. “We’ve just got to stop it.”

More Narcan needed

As Tuesday night wore on, all of the Jennings County deputies and paramedics responding to overdoses ran out of Narcan but were able to secure more from outside the county as they continued to respond to calls, Mowery said. Most of the victims in Jennings County required two doses to be revived, and one victim needed four doses, resulting in Jennings County temporarily running out of the antidote quickly, he said.

Mowery said each deputy carries one dose of Narcan, and the antidote is also carried by paramedics on Rescue 20, which is the Jennings County emergency medical response vehicle. Driver said the department will begin providing more Narcan doses to each deputy as a result of what happened on Tuesday.

When the first Jennings County overdose call came in at about 5:19 p.m. Tuesday, Mowery said it was handled by the day shift, which consists of two deputies handling calls. When more overdose calls came in after 6 p.m., the two night-shift deputies began assisting. Rescue 20 called in both of its backup units, meaning three paramedic units were also responding to the overdose calls that continued until midnight.

Jennings County officers were also called in to stay with overdose victims at the hospital in North Vernon as four of the overdose victims were arrested for possession of a controlled substance, Mowery said.

Indiana State Police had three troopers working with deputies in Jennings County responding to the overdose calls who used all their Narcan in assisting victims, said Sgt. Stephen Wheeles, Indiana State Police spokesman.

Troopers carry one or two doses of Narcan when on duty, Wheeles said. After Jennings County ran out of its supply, troopers asked for as many as 10 backup doses to be sent from the Versailles post to assist the county.

5 arrested

Four adults were arrested in Jennings County on drug-related charges:

  • Caleb Barton, 18, North Vernon, possession of a controlled substance.
  • Damon Clark, 25, North Vernon, possession of a controlled substance and possession of paraphernalia.
  • Devin R. Fear, 21, North Vernon, possession of a controlled substance.
  • Jarvie Williams III, 23, North Vernon, possession of a controlled substance, possession of a syringe, possession of paraphernalia and a warrant through Jennings County.

One person also was arrested in Jackson County on drug charges:

  • Michael Purvis, 34, Seymour, two Level 6 felony charges of dealing in a schedule I, II or III controlled substance. Purvis was booked into the Jackson County Jail in Brownstown at 1:42 a.m. Wednesday.

In Jackson County, the first word police and emergency personnel in Seymour heard of an overdose in the city came at about 10 p.m. Tuesday when they responded to a report of three people with seizure activity at an apartment on Rebecca Court, located on the southeast side of the city.

Abbott said it took four doses of Narcan to get a reaction from Purvis and two doses each for the two women who were overdosing at the same address.

Cincinnati connection?

Driver believes the Jennings and Jackson county cases are related to an estimated 34 overdoses reported in Cincinnati on Tuesday.

“We’re pretty certain the heroin is coming from Cincinnati,” he said.

The similar timing of overdoses occurring in Jennings and Jackson counties  is likely the result of word getting out that a new drug shipment was in Cincinnati, Wheeles said.

The state police officer said he suspects someone in Jennings or Jackson county went to Cincinnati to get it for distribution. Users are known to be are waiting on it, and as soon as a heroin shipment arrives, they begin using the drug, Wheeles said.

Although the overdose reports stopped at about midnight Tuesday, Driver is concerned that more overdoses could occur among users who were not aware of the dangers.

“I hope this isn’t the future,” Mowery said Wednesday. “But it is what we’re having to deal with now.”

Republic staff writers Mark Webber and Olivia Covington contributed to this report, as did staff writers from the Tribune of Seymour, a sister publication of The Republic.

How does Narcan work?

When Narcan is administered to someone who has overdosed on an opioid, it will start to work within three to five minutes or less.

The drug is effective on overdoses involving heroin, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone and hydromorphone, which cause overdose victims to have slower breathing or to stop breathing all together.

Emergency responders may administer the Narcan nasal mist if a person has slowed or stopped breathing or is unresponsive due to opioid overdose.

Emergency medical personnel are also sent to the scene and the victim is sent to the hospital for further examination and monitoring.

Source: Associated Press

Facts about fentanyl

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, 50 times more potent than heroin, that’s responsible for a recent surge in overdose deaths in some parts of the country. It also has legitimate medical uses.

Doctors prescribe fentanyl for cancer patients with tolerance to other narcotics. It comes in skin patches, lozenges, nasal spray and tablets. Because of the risk of abuse, overdose and addiction, the Food and Drug Administration imposes tight restrictions on fentanyl; it is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance.

Some pharmaceutical fentanyl is illegally diverted to the black market. But most fentanyl used illicitly is manufactured in clandestine labs. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has tied fentanyl seizures to Mexican drug-trafficking groups. On the street, fentanyl is sold alone as powder, added to heroin or made into counterfeit OxyContin pills. Users don’t always know when they’re taking fentanyl, increasing the risk of fatal overdose.

The DEA issued a nationwide alert about fentanyl overdose in March 2015. More than 700 fentanyl-related overdose deaths were reported to the DEA in late 2013 and 2014. Since many coroners and state crime labs don’t routinely test for fentanyl, the actual number of overdoses is probably much higher.

The lethan dosage of fentanyl is difficult to determine. Anyone who takes prescription opioid painkillers for a long time builds up a tolerance to the drugs. A dose that could kill one person might provide medicinal pain relief to another.

Experts in medical toxicology say it’s important to know how much opioid medication a person has been using before a death to know how to interpret post-mortem blood levels. Pill bottles and medical history may become crucial evidence.

Source: The Associated Press

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.