Xylazine, an animal tranquilizer, added to fentanyl makes the job even more difficult – Capt. Kevin Hunter

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Saving drug users from overdose isn’t just about Narcan, the “miracle drug” that brings people back to life in the midst of an opioid overdose.

There’s hope that the user will seek help.

The Fort Wayne Police Department has offered numerous services to known drug users through its Hope and Recovery Team, created about three years ago.

This week, Fort Wayne City Council gave the project another shot in the arm by approving $350,000 in ARPA money to pay for a master’s level social worker and a peer recovery coach.

The money will cover the positions for two years, according to Capt. Kevin Hunter, who presides over FWPD administrative and the Vice & Narcotics unit, including HART.

The two new positions will complement the two plainclothes officers and detectives and two existing master’s level social workers who follow up on non-fatal overdose cases to offer recovery services, including counseling in a non-hostile way.

Samantha Taylor, one of two licensed social workers on the HART team, said during the last year and a half, they’ve been part of the effort, they’ve helped thousands of people.

“Honestly, the fact that we’ve been able to reach that many people in the Fort Wayne community has been the greatest pleasure that we’ve had the opportunity to have,” Taylor said Wednesday. “And with this extra money, these new social workers and other positions, we will be able to even broaden our horizons and broaden the scope of work that we can do with each client.”

HART social worker Samantha Taylor said she and another social worker have helped thousands of people in just the past year and a half.

Taylor and her cohort, Darcy Robins, focus on substance use disorder and mental health. The new positions will target mental health cases without necessarily being drug-related and assist police officers responding to mental health situations. The department hopes to fill the positions this spring, Taylor added.

The approved positions are needed, Hunter said, because of the number of calls the department receives for crisis intervention.

In 2022, the Crisis Intervention Team received 2,700 calls, 1,700 of which resulted in a 24-hour detention order.

These calls, Hunter said, were “basically mental health calls.”

“A person who has severe mental health issues may call police 20 times a month or more a month,” Hunter explained. “The new positions ‘would do long-term case management.’”

The goal is to reduce the calls for service for people who have mental health issues who routinely call police, Hunter added. The 24-hour detention is so a police officer can transport a distressed individual who is deemed a danger to himself or other people to Parkview Hospital for evaluation. Parkview also has case managers, but FWPD needs its own to make its own program sustainable, Hunter said.

Even with Narcan, which contains the drug naloxone, overdose deaths will likely be close to the same number for the past two years, Hunter said. In 2021, there were 173 deaths from overdose. For 2022, there are 159 confirmed overdose deaths with nine cases pending toxicology.

A new danger reportedly even greater than fentanyl is the increasing use of xylazine, an animal tranquilizer used to cut fentanyl. It’s not an opioid, which means NARCAN doesn’t have the same effect on an overdose victim.

“We’re seeing fentanyl and xylazine in counterfeit 30 pills” that a buyer believes to be Percocet, a pain killer. Xylazine works on the central nervous system, and NARCAN doesn’t treat those kinds of drugs, Hunter said. He said he believes China supplies xylazine as well as fentanyl. They became aware of the xylazine problem when it appeared in the toxicology reports.

“It’s so important to track all this stuff,” Hunter said. “Having that information is just key to really helping this issue.”