FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — It is a new grim milestone. The U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that 9.5 million counterfeit pills were seized so far this year with more than 93,000 overdoses across the nation – a new yearly record.
One of the causes is believed to be fentanyl, and in Northeast Indiana and Allen County, the death count is rising. One of those deaths in 2020 was Stacey Croston’s 18-year-old daughter Mona.
“She lost her life to this drug and I know she would very much want me to do anything that I could to help protect her friends and the people of this community,” Croston said. “I also want to help other mothers not ever have to celebrate an angel-versary like I am today.”
On Tuesday, Croston stood at the corner of Berry and Clinton Streets next to the Allen County Courthouse with signs raising awareness about the fentanyl epidemic. Boards with Mona’s pictures were placed around the lawn so family and friends could place flowers, balloons, and other keepsakes in the memorial.
From 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Croston stayed there holding signs and talking to people in cars who stopped at the light.
Croston had signs demanding that officials start testing for fentanyl during drug screens. Mona had gotten into trouble with the law and was on probation in Allen County. However, when officials did her drug screen fentanyl was not included. Then on Oct. 12, 2020, a short time after the test, Mona passed away from a fentanyl overdose.
“I knew that people used fentanyl because I work in a hospital but I didn’t realize how bad it was,” Croston said. “We are in an opioid crisis, a fentanyl epidemic and they are testing ecstasy and marijuana. Our juveniles are using harder drugs than a 5 or 6-panel drug screen can pick up.”
Fort Wayne Police Department Captain Kevin Hunter oversees the Hope and Recovery Team (HART) and is also in vice and narcotics. He says the fentanyl crisis is the “worse the city has ever seen.” It only takes two milligrams of fentanyl to overdose. Right now the Fort Wayne Police Department has ceased 4,795 grams of fentanyl totaling over two million fatal doses of fentanyl.
Hunter says that a person having a fentanyl overdose requires more Narcan to revive than other overdoses. With the rise in overdoses, he believes a person should be tested for the opioid.
“Because it is so prevalent absolutely,” Hunter said. “If we want to find all of the drugs in someone’s system then absolutely yes.”
He says the city’s fatal and non-overdoses have increased over the years with 2020 breaking a new record. So far this year the city of Fort Wayne is on record to match the 2020 record of fatal overdoses, if not exceed it.
Last year the city saw 1,243 non-fatal overdoses and 145 overdose deaths. At the end of September, the city was at 975 non-fatal overdoses and 93 confirmed overdose deaths with 54 pending toxicology reports.
“It’s a preventable number,” Hunter said. “If we got people into treatment they wouldn’t be overdosing and dying. ”
But it’s not just a Fort Wayne issue. Huntington County is also seeing an increase in fentanyl overdoses. When an overdose comes into the county, Huntington County Chief Deputy Coroner Phil Zahm says that fentanyl is playing a huge role in deaths with it being contributing factor in the person’s death in 90% of the cases.
“We’ve seen a spike in cases,” Zahm says. “We are a smaller county but this year we’ve seen 16 overdose cases which is up from last year which I believe was six or seven cases total.”
Zahm says that when an overdose comes in fentanyl is the first drug they test for. Another factor in the overdose epidemic is that officials are seeing other drugs, like marijuana, meth, and counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl.
“I’ve listened to people who have been addicts,” Zahm said. “I’ve seen the ones who have died and have been brought back and I’ve listened to their stories but the problem is we have to stop the dealers. We have to stop the delivery method.”
Due to the rise of cases, Huntington County Sheriff Chris Newton announced a community meeting planned for Nov. 17 at 6 p.m. at the Huntington North High School auditorium to discuss the overdoses.
Those struggling with addiction to fentanyl and other drugs can reach out to the Hope and Recovery Team (HART) by calling 260-427-5801.