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'Now its fentanyl': Advocates urge Hoosiers to test drugs due to increase in overdose deaths

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Posted at 5:00 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 18:22:24-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Multiple people die every day from drug overdoses in central Indiana and an increasing number of those deaths involve the world’s most powerful opioid: fentanyl.

While the goal is to end drug use there is a tool available now to help reduce fentanyl deaths.

A sugar packet contains about 4,000 mg of sugar. A lethal dose of fentanyl is just 3 mg.

That means a sugar packet of fentanyl could kill more than 1,300 people.

Fentanyl test strips, smaller than a stick of gum can save someone’s life.

“I miss him every single day and every day I talked to him a lot. I do, I know he hears me,” Mary Jo Eppink said.

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Mary Jo Eppink lost her son Joey in August 2021 to a fentanyl overdose.

She lost her son Joey to a drug overdose in August 2021.

“I was in complete and utter shock,” Eppink said, “I said 'Are you sure that we're talking about Joey? Are you sure it's Joey because he doesn't do drugs.'”

She told WRTV her son was obsessed with anything that had an engine and was involved in cart racing for years.

“He lived large and in charge and he was very passionate about what he did,” Eppink said, “I never thought that drugs was going to be what I needed to worry about.”

In 2020, fentanyl was the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Marion County alone, there were 507 overdose deaths with fentanyl in 2020 and that number was even higher last year.

“It only takes a small amount to take someone's life,” Johnson County Coroner Michael Pruitt said.

He said already this year they’ve had 20 overdose deaths they found traces of fentanyl in 80% of them.

“Whether or not those individuals knew that they were taking fentanyl, no one may ever know,” Pruitt said.

His department will soon start bringing a new tool to the scene of suspected overdose deaths.

“We're going to start carrying the fentanyl test strips in the corners office so that we can test substances that we believe might be fentanyl,” Pruitt said.

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Here in Indiana, Overdose Lifeline is making these test strips available to everyone.

“In Marion County since January 1st, I think we've distributed more than 5,000,” Bre Baldwin with Overdose Lifeline said.

Baldwin manages harm reduction for Overdose Lifeline and said the fentanyl test strips help promote consent as well as informed choices.

“They're basically used just to make sure that somebody has the option to know if fentanyl is in their supply and then can make that informed choice of whether or not they're going to continue to use or use less or not even at all,” Baldwin said.

Users will have to use a small amount of their drugs for the test that takes just 30 seconds, but Baldwin said the minuscule amount could be lifesaving.

“In the grand scheme of things, a lot of times that loss of supply is going to make up for itself with the reward of knowing if there's fentanyl in your supply or not,” Baldwin said.

At Overdose Lifeline, they said fentanyl is everywhere not just in opioids but also being pressed into prescription pills.

“We've seen people as young as 14 who have tested their Adderall or there’s a pill that they've gotten illicitly and have fentanyl in it, unfortunately. So, the most important part is that people no matter what substance they're using are all at risk of fentanyl overdose,” Baldwin said.

As for Eppink, she said she’s sure her son didn’t know about these strips and if he had things would be a lot different.

“I believe Joey would have used test strips for sure and I think had he used them we'd be having a very different interview right now. We'd be talking about a very lucky young man whose life was saved,” Eppink said.

Now the state of Indiana has made overdose fatality review boards across the state.

Pruitt said their review board goes over what happened, what treatment or services were offered to the deceased and how they might be able to help others so they don’t fall victim to an overdose too.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, WRTV wants to help you get the resources you need.

For more information on a recovery organization near you, you can visit the Indiana Recovery Network website.

You can call 211 for help 24/7 in Indiana.

You can call the Indiana Addiction Hotline at 1-800-622-HELP (4357).

To find where you can get Naloxone near you, click here.

To learn more about NaloxBoxes, click here.

To view more resources from NextLevel Recovery Indiana, click here to visit its website.

To get naloxone or the fentanyl test strips visit overdoselifeline.org. Just click the red banner at the top and you can remain anonymous if you need to.

Click here!

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