GPD holds public fentanyl, opioid educational seminar

Lynne Hermansen
Gardner News

One pill laced with fentanyl can kill in minutes.

“As little as three grains can kill you,” Gardner Police Detective Brian Deer said.

Fentanyl-opioid use and overdose deaths are a growing concern for the fastest group of users, who are younger and younger people. And it’s the reason why Gardner Police Department officials had its first educational seminar town hall meeting to help parents and community members become aware of the opioid epidemic, the current dangers and trends and how it is increasingly affecting the younger populations.

“We thought it was important to get this information out before summer,” Police Chief Pam Woldack said.

Deer led the seminar. Woldack said he was the resident expert and a longtime Gardner resident.

Deer said the opioid epidemic prior to 2000 was related to prescribed medication.

“As the earlier 2000s started, there was a push in healthcare for hospitals graded, doctors being graded,” he said. “Making sure somebody didn’t have pain was a contributing factor to healthcare.”

That, in turn, Deer said, resulted in patients being prescribed strong medications for an illness that didn’t require a long or extended dose, and it was an easy prescription for doctors to write for anyone complaining of pain. Deer said he had numerous stories from people who become addicted from opioids when first prescribed for injuries.

“When opioids first came on the market they were cheap, really easy to get,” he said. “And then when people couldn’t get them some of the people needing the opioids went to other opioids to heroin and stuff like that. That kind of just spiraled with a big population of America.”

Deer said opioid is a class of drug and most people before 2000 were most familiar with heroin.

Prescription opioids include oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, fentanyl, morphine, codeine, methadone, tramadol, bupremorphine and heroin. Only morphine and codeine are considered natural opioids. Deer said the types most familiar include oxycodone, oxycontin, percocet, hydrocodone and vicodin.

Opioids are typically prescribed for post-surgical pain, severe pain from trauma or disease. They may be taken orally, through a skin patch, under the tongue or by injection. Deer said prior to the 2000s they were taken orally or through a time release skin patch, but the opioids soon changed to synthetically created in labs.

Synthetic opioids act on the same parts of the brain as natural opioids by producing the same effects for users. Deer said the drugs block pain to the brain by activating an area of nerve cells called opioid receptors that block pain cells from the brain to the body, but in a short amount of time it can cause short-term damage to the brain.

“There is a good need for this type of medication when done correctly,” he said.

Side effects include sleepiness, relaxation, euphoria, nausea, vomiting, constipation and slowed breathing that can result in hypoxia. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is a major contributor to fatal and nonfatal overdoses.

Deer said the street supply of the pills has been flooded with fakes made with fentanyl. Most of the drugs they find have fentanyl in them. People should also watch out for other non-opioid drugs being laced with fentanyl.

Fentanyl can be pressed into several shapes, sizes and colors. It is a potent synthetic opioid.

Deer said when the prescription pills became hard to get dealers started making the fake pills meant to look like the prescribed ones.

“Assume any pill you buy online or get from a friend is fake, highly addictive and possibly deadly,” he said. “There are a lot of websites you can buy them at. It is unfortunate but they can, but you can go to certain corners of the web and purchase pain relievers that look real, look legitimate, but are all fake.”

Deer said during the height of the epidemic a lot of education was started by different groups.

“A lot of the groups and education comes from family members or a foundation started by someone who has lost a loved one,” he said.

Deer said “Song for Charlie” was a big one that goes back to middle school education that helps children know what it looks like.

“There are a lot of youngsters who don’t know what a prescription pill looks like, and what the difference (from a vitamin) really is,” he said.

Deer said the department has seized fentanyl in methamphetamine and cocaine. It can also be found in liquid and powder form. The current trend is in powder form, but it changes monthly.

Deer said sometimes it can be hard to tell the real from the fake without a microscope.

“They are produced in mass quantities,” he said. “It eliminates a lot of the supply cost. There is a lot of cost involved with moving narcotics into the United States.It has eliminated a lot of those incurring costs for people who are trying to deal this stuff.”

Deer said as a prescribed medication it is very effective for pain. Unfortunately, he said, the different substances used to make the synthetic versions are coming from all and different areas of the world, especially China as the prime source shipping to Mexico.

Deer said earlier this year the department received testing strips, but to properly test they have to break the drug down and test strips can not always be reliable.

“You have to crush it all the way down to the sand form just enough to test the product,” he said. “There could be a little or a lot.”

With the counterfeit fentanyl being unregulated, it is becoming more and more believable as the real prescribed version, Deer said, noting they have similar packaging and containers.

The counterfeit fentanyl that Johnson County seized from 2018 to 2021 was 45 percent of the time in tablet form. In 2021, Gardner’s drug seizures were mostly prescription.

Deer said fentanyl is the third-most submitted drug to the Johnson County Crime Lab, which has jumped from being at 18th on the list in 2018.

The trend is increasing upwards to powder, but Deer said in 2022 they were mostly seeing the pill form mixed with meth, and the trend also applies nationwide not just Johnson County.

Deer shared how people can recognize overdose symptoms. Some of those signs include small, constricted pinpoint pupils, falling asleep or consciousness, slow, weak or no breathing, choking of gurgling sounds, a limp body or cold, clammy and or discolored skin.

“But it may not be a dramatic event,” he said.

Deer said test strips are commercially available, but once again it is hard to test for it and how much fentanyl is in a drug.

Deer said Narcan is also available over the counter or through groups such as the Johnson County Department of Human Affairs.

“It takes a person back to before the overdose,” he said. “It takes away the high.”

Deer said the user should still be taken a nearby emergency room, because the NarCan will wear off and they can overdose again. NarCan cannot hurt someone.

The nonfatal overdoses are not graphed, Deer said.

“Victims are much younger now,” he said. “There are different names, ages and faces now. Sometimes all it takes is half a pill.”

Deer said overdose deaths remain the leading cause of injury related deaths

Deer said they would like to talk and work with the schools more and there isn’t as much education as there should be.

“There is an eye opening amount of education available, and we are welcome to help out with schools,” he said.

Woldack said they were planning on partnering with schools in the fall. Deer said there are a lot of ways they can educate students through smaller discussion groups or larger presentations, but they are more likely to learn more from watching a video then him.

“Kids are smart,” he said. Gardner Police Department Brian Deer leads a public town-hall style educational seminar May 15 on opioids and fentanyl awareness. Photo by Lynne Hermansen