INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis police are investigating another rash of overdoses downtown – this time at an inmate reentry facility.
Between 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and 11:00 a.m. Wednesday, IMPD officers were called on at least four suspected overdoses at the Brandon Hall inmate reentry facility at 611 N. Capitol Avenue. All four victims were male inmates at the facility between the ages of 37 and 48.
The facility, which also offers transitional housing for homeless veterans in a separate area of the building, is operated by the Volunteers of America. According to Michael Lloyd, vice president of operations for VOA Indiana, facility staff believe the drug responsible for the overdose was the synthetic cannabinoid known as K2, or “spice.”
According to Lloyd, the drugs were smuggled into the facility by an inmate, who then passed them out to others inside. Facility staff were first made aware of the issue when one of the inmates stopped breathing.
“He wasn’t breathing and when they were talking to him he said he was ‘on a bad trip,’” Lloyd said.
A second inmate soon began having a seizure-like episode. Ultimately, four inmates were transported to the hospital. Lloyd said all of them were back at the facility within a few hours of being checked out by medical professionals.
IMPD investigators documented finding a baggie of suspected synthetic marijuana on scene. The department said investigators are looking into whether the overdoses may be the latest attributable to a mixture of heavy duty bug sprays and synthetic marijuana called “KD.”
Lloyd said this was the most serious overdose incident at the facility that he can recall, but thought K2 alone was potent enough to be responsible for the reactions.
“I’ve been in the business for 26 years,” Lloyd said. “I’ve seen individuals who’ve smoked K2, and sometimes they get violent, sometimes they get moody, but they don’t really get catatonic like they do with this bug spray stuff.”
Indianapolis firefighters told RTV6 earlier this week that bug spray-laced synthetic marijuana has become a growing problem on the east side of Indianapolis. According to IFD, firefighters are now making several runs a day because of the toxic mixture – which can induce symptoms including vomiting, dizziness, respiratory distress and, in some cases, a nearly catatonic state.
"Kind of like a zombie," said IFD Cpt. Chris Major. "We started describing it like zombielike, where they might be eating the grass that they're lying in or they are tearing at their clothes."
The Brandon Hall overdoses are the largest incident downtown linked to a single batch of drugs since early February, when more than two dozen overdoses linked to synthetic marijuana were reported in a 24-hour period.
Those cases – which mostly involved homeless people in and around the Wheeler Mission on Market Street – were linked to the synthetic cannabinoids 5-fluoro-ADB and FUB-AMB. Police raided three alleged drug houses on the Near Eastside and seized nearly 10 pounds of the drugs in late February. They also arrested four men accused of “supplying lower-level drug dealers victimizing the homeless population within the Downtown District.”
Although several victims were hospitalized in serious condition, to date, none of the overdoses linked to synthetic marijuana in the downtown area have been fatal.
The problem of synthetic marijuana on Indianapolis streets also received federal attention last month when the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced charges against 14 men accused of running a gun and drug trafficking out of the city’s northeast side.
In that case, dubbed “Operation Little Dipper,” federal and local law enforcement officers seized methamphetamine, marijuana and packages of then synthetic cannabinoid 5Fluoro-AMB – a substance related to the synthetic drug blamed for the Wheeler Mission overdoses.
Back at Brandon Hall, Lloyd said facility staff are constantly monitoring for illicit substances – but that it’s an ongoing struggle to keep them out of the building.
“This is the game for them,” Lloyd said. “They try to get it in and we try to stop them. Sometimes they get it in, and sometimes we stop them.”
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