25 overdoses in 24 hours: One block of downtown Indianapolis rocked with drug issues

Detectives tracking bad batch of synthetic drugs
Posted at 2:45 PM, Feb 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-01 20:21:17-05

INDIANAPOLIS – At least 25 overdoses were reported in just 24 hours around the Wheeler Mission in downtown Indianapolis.

Since Wednesday, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services have responded to multiple overdoses involving dozens of people from the area surrounding the 500 block of E. Market Street. 

IEMS said they have transported people from the area nearby the Wheeler Men's Mission homeless shelter. Steve Kerr, chief development officer for Wheeler Mission, said at least 17 of those overdoses were registered residents of the Wheeler Mission and that eight of them occurred inside the shelter.

“Guys would most likely go into the bathroom and ingest or snort the bath salts and within minutes there was an obvious reaction to the drugs: vomiting, convulsions, just very, very erratic behavior,” Kerr said. “So it was an obvious overdose that occurred almost immediately.”

Kerr said Wheeler guests go through “airport-style security,” including being wanded, but that isn’t always enough to prevent unwanted substances from getting in.

“If it’s not a metallic carrying case or whatever, we can’t detect it,” he said. “So it was probably brought into our facility in their clothing and then either sold or given out freely to the other guests.”

Thanks to tips from other Wheeler residents, police were able to make an arrest in the case, and also to seize packages of a substance known as “flakka” – a synthetic drug akin to bath salts – along with two firearms. Police said substance may have also had other substances, specifically PCP, mixed in.

While most of the overdose victims either refused treatment or were quickly released from the hospital, Kerr said at least one had to be placed on life support.

Overdoses aren’t unusual at Wheeler, Kerr says, but they’ve never happened before on this scale.

“One or two a week, which is still alarming,” he said. “And our staff is trained in how to administer Narcan. But this is a first for us. This volume of overdoses has really taken us aback and taken us by surprise.”

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