Florida, shaken to the core by an unprecedented heroin overdose epidemic, may now have to grapple with a brand new deadly opioid mixture dubbed “Grey Death” that utilizes several opioids and looks like concrete.
When it comes to designer drugs, Martin County seems to be a magnet and Sheriff William Snyder is well aware.
In August, a 19-year-old man high on a bath salt-like drug smashed through the front plate-glass window of a family’s Stuart home and attacked two people, police said.
Snyder says Grey Death looks consists of heroin, fentanyl and other opioids.
“They don’t call it gray death for any other reason other than the fact that it can definitely cause death,” Sheriff Snyder told CBS12.com.
“My prayer is that we never see it here, my expectation is the likelihood is we will see it here in Martin County,” Sheriff Snyder said.
The new drug mixture can be injected, smoked, snorted or swallowed. Snyder has ordered special gear for his deputies when they encounter Gray Death and other strong opioids that can be deadly simply by touching it.
“They will be able to cover all their body, hands, and feet and it will protect them so when they come out of that scene they can take it off, decontaminate and be safe,” Sheriff Snyder said
As marijuana moves towards legalization throughout the country, the Drug Enforcement Administration took action this week against the dangerous designer products pretending to be a pot substitute — called cannabinoids — sold at some gas stations, convenience stores and head shops.
Drugs that mimic the natural plant of marijuana have been popping up in the last decade under the brand names Spice, K2 and a dozen others. Now the DEA has temporarily added six more analogs of the THC – the drug found naturally in pot — to Schedule I list, which includes heroin.
One of the new banned substances, MDMB-CHMICA, is believed to have attributed to 42 overdoses and 29 deaths in Europe. Another, ADB–FUBINACA,is found in K2.
Synthetic marijuana is akin to the bath salts that have caused so much havoc, a chemical goop cooked up in labs. The Palm Beach Post took a look at bath salts last year. Read the story by clicking here.
The major concern is these substances are being targeted to adolescents. The DEA said it is not aware of any currently accepted medical uses for these substances in the United States.
Synthetic cannabis was developed to assist in the research of AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy, resulting in 450 synthetic cannabinoid compounds, according to The Daily Beast.
The pro-pot website, Herb, praised the DEA for its move, saying the hundreds of synthetics that act on the same receptors in the brain as natural marijuana are not equal because they affect the brain in different ways.
“This makes their potency range from tens to ten-thousands magnitude higher than THC, and with different effects,” according to Herb. “Synthetics are to real THC as rubbing alcohol is to vodka.
UPDATE 12:46 p.m. A half-century ago, the office of the U.S. Surgeon General – the country’s top doctor – issued a report on tobacco that started a cultural shift in a Mad Men-era America where cigarettes were ubiquitous to one today where they are shunned and forever connected to lung cancer.
Now that office under U.S. Surgeon Vice Admiral Dr. Vivek H. Murthy hopes to inspire a similar sea change with its first ever report on addiction. It aims to remove the public stigma of the disease by defining once and for all as a neurological brain disorder that needs to be treated as any other chronic condition.
“My hope with this report is that it will galvanize our country to address the addiction crisis,” Murthy said in a press availability today.
Much of his findings have been accepted in the recovery community for years, even decades. But Murthy wants the public to understand that addiction is a disease, not one of simple self-control.
Murthy said he aims to change the way America views addiction. “I’m calling out country to action,” he said. “I’m calling for a cultural shift in how we think about addiction, that we recognize that it is not a moral failing.”
He said, in fact, addiction is neurological disorder of the brain and “is not a disease of choice.”
The report states the pressing need for an overhaul in the way the country thinks about addiction, stating that almost 22.5 million people reported using an illegal drug in the last year, 20 million have substance abuse issues and 12.5 million abuse prescription pain pills.
Every day, 78 people die in the U.S. from heroin or heroin-related drugs.
Among other findings is that only 10 percent of those now addicted receive treatment and that the economic impact of drug and alcohol misuse and addiction amounts to $442 billion each year.
One in seven Americans will struggle with some type of alcohol or drug addiction, the report states.
What is needed is a multi-pronged approach of medication, counseling and social support, along with evidence-based interventions to prevent addiction in the first place, according to the report.
Murtha will talk about addiction with other experts at an event later today in Los Angeles.
Without being implicit, the report offers an alternative to incarceration for those suffering from addiction and hails a system of recovery support services – or RSS – to keep recovered addicts from relapsing. The most-well known RSS, the report points out, is Alcoholics Anonymous but there are many resources.
The report also endorses needle-exchange programs and other solutions, including medication to wean addicts off of heroin.
For those on the front-lines battling addiction in Palm Beach County, the report was like the bugle call of the cavalry arriving.
James N. Hall, an epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University, has been watching heroin’s march through the community for five years.
“This is a landmark report from the Surgeon General of the United States,” he said. “It is an open call for key policy shifts making this a No. 1 public health issue rather than a moral or criminal issue.”
He called on political leaders to “tackle this age-old problem that is more dangerous, more addictive and more deadly in 2016 than any other time in our lives.”
Dr. Anthony Campo is the Medical Director at Caron Renaissance and Ocean Drive. He said the report was “ground-breaking” and “long overdue.”
He thinks the de-stigmatizing of addiction and making treatment more available will go a long way in dealing with the crisis.
“When you look at the figures, overdoses takes a life every 19 minutes,” Campo said. “Criminalizing substance abuse disorders didn’t work. It has to be treatment.”
How Murthy’s report — particularly his call to “invest more” in treatment and prevention – goes over with President-Elect Donald Trump is unknown.
“How we respond to this crisis is a moral test for America,” Murthy said. “Are we a nation willing to take on an epidemic that is causing great human suffering and economic loss? Are we able to live up to that most fundamental obligation we have as human beings: to care for one another?”
It’s a big first step for the district that already runs the Trauma Hawk air ambulance, Lakeside Medical Center in Belle Glade and primary care clinics and school nurses, among other services.
The opioid epidemic has been fueled by prescription pill abuse and the mixing of powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl with heroin by traffickers and dealers to increase potency and profit.
The district this week applied for a $10 million state grant over five years from the Department of Children & Families that would allow it initially to provide services to addicts at their most vulnerable: right when they overdose and are taken to hospital emergency rooms.
The district will partner up with Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, Palm Beach Fire-Rescue, as well as hospital emergency rooms.
The first stage of the plan is to get addicts in crisis who have been stabilized to an open bed at a local detox or drug recovery center.
The Health Care District is also not just focusing on poor and homeless drug abusers, aiming to help any community drug users who needs to navigate the drug rehabilitation and insurance industries to get treatment, as well as providing those without means an avenue for recovery.
But the district’s CEO Darcy Davis says the second phase of the plan will establish a “centralized receiving facility” that would not only provide treatment for addicts but also mental health services.
“We recognize the opioid crisis is significant and we need to act as quickly as possible to respond,” she said. “And you have to start somewhere. It’s a huge problem. We feel like we need to get involved.”
Read more about the Health Care District’s plans to expand into addiction services this weekend in the Palm Beach Post.
The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Tuesday its intention to place the active materials in the kratom plant into the Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
“Kratom is abused for its ability to produce opioid-like effects and is often marketed as a legal alternative to controlled substances,” the DEA said in a statement.
The drug also has been used to wean addicts off stronger drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methadone. Researchers at the University of Mississippi say it may even act as a suppressor for such highly addictive drugs.
The DEA crackdown is a victory for advocates who have warned of the dangers of kratom and also a financial hit for the several kava bars that operate from Boca Raton to Palm Beach Gardens.
Mautner blames her son Ian’s suicide in July 2014 on addiction to kratom. She says the drug is “seemingly benign” because it is touted as “all natural. She said Kava bars are very lucrative businesses and can lure unsuspecting young people into addiction.
“I hope this is right thing and I hope it will save lives,” she said. Currently, the mother has established a foundation in hopes of building a center for continuum of care for alcoholics and addicts once they finish their 30-day treatment.
Most kava bars contacted did not want to comment on the DEA’s move, but James Hare, manager of Native Kava in Boynton Beach, said the DEA is in overkill mode when it has been shown by researchers to have medicinal purposes.
“It’s crazy to go from zero to a schedule I substance. It is irresponsible,” he said.
Hare said most of the problems, such as so-called overdoses, associated with kratom comes from extracts in which other substances are added or it is mixed with other drugs by the user. There is even synthetic kratom.
“There is a market for it synthetic blends and people are having an adverse affect and they are blaming it on kratom itself,” Hare said.
Kratom just doesn’t come in a drink served in coconut shell at kava bars. Law enforcement has seized it in powder, plant, capsules and even drug patches.
“Because the identity, purity levels, and quantity of these substances are uncertain and inconsistent, they pose significant adverse health risks to users,” the DEA stated.
The Centers for Disease Control says kratom abuse can lead to agitation, irritability, and hypertension. The DEA is aware of 15 kratom-related deaths between 2104 and 2016.
Kratom, from a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, can have stimulant effects at low doses and sedative effects at high doses, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Babies addicted to opioids – methadone, heroin and oxycodone – have doubled since 2010, according to a story by the News-Press in Fort Myers.
Using newly obtained hospital records, the newspaper found 2,487 Florida newborns showed signs of drug withdrawal or were otherwise affected by exposure to narcotics in 2015.
That is an increase from 1,903 the previous year and 1,336 reported in 2010, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
When babies are born addicted to opiates it is a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. A recent state report noted that hospital charges for such patients average more than $53,000 – a bill commonly sent to taxpayer-supported Medicaid plans.
Neonatal intensive care unit staff in Southwest Florida commonly see a half dozen babies any given day.
“When I first started, you’d see maybe one occasionally,” said Heather Polland, a supervising nurse in the Golisano NICU. “Now, we could have four, five, six, seven sometimes.”
In an interview with Health News Florida, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy emphasized that the disease of addiction – be it alcoholism or heroin dependence – is a disease of addiction and is not a moral failing.
The news collective out of Tampa caught up with Murphy in Cleveland earlier this mother where he gave the keynote speech at the annual Association of Health Care Journalists conference.
Murthy said wants to help change the way people look at addiction and the current heroin epidemic.
“We have to be sure that people see it for what it is, which is a chronic illness, that we have to treat it with the same urgency and the same skill the same compassion we would diabetes or heart disease,” he told Health News Florida.
He said the government and the private sector must ensure that not only are prescribing practices changing in regards to opioid medications but that first-responders have overdose antidotes like Nalaxone, also known as a “save shot.”
Addiction is hitting South Florida hard. It is home to unprecedented numbers of heroin overdoses.
Those overdoses reflect the large numbers of people coming to Palm Beach County to recover from heroin- and the numbers of unscrupulous businesses exploiting them. Read more about addiction in our series Addiction Treatment: Inside the Gold Rush.
Murthy said that because society didn’t address addiction as an illness for decades, many people have gone without treatment, missing out on living fulfilling lives and contributing to society. He is forming the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Substance Use, Addiction and Health.
“It’s there not only to bring together the best science and how to prevent and treat substance abuse disorders, but it’s also there to move the country toward a new way of thinking about addiction,” Murthy said.
To read all of Health News Florida’s report click here.
Ithaca’s mayor has a unique plan to address the drug epidemic in his community: a supervised heroin injection facility.
“I have watched for 20 years this system that just doesn’t work,” Svante Myrick, 28, explained in an Associated Press interview. “We can’t wait anymore for the federal government. We have people shooting up in alleys. In bathroom stalls. And too many of them are dying.”
Myrick’s plan is to create a facility where heroin users can shoot the illegal drug with a clean needle under the supervision of a nurse, and without fear of being arrested by police. Medical staff will be available if the user should accidentally overdose, and other resources will be available if the addict wants to seek recovery treatment.
“I think for a lot of people this is going to sound like a weird concept — ‘Aren’t you just encouraging them to use drugs?'” he said. “But I think it’s more possible now than at any time in our history. The opioid epidemic is affecting more people and we know we can’t wait any longer for the federal government to do something.”
The plan faces legal hurdles in New York’s legislature, where heroin use has not been deemed a state health crisis yet. These types of facilities are already in use in Canada, Europe and Australia, according to the AP, so there is precedent for the approach.
Read more about Myrick’s background, how he came up with the idea and the opposition he faces here.