IRONWOOD - Sgt. Adam Clemens, of the Ironwood Public Safety Department, gave nearly 50 community members tips and information on how to spot drug use and what to do if they suspect it at a presentation at Luther L. Wright High School Wednesday night.
Other members from the Gogebic Iron Area Narcotic Team from IPSD, the Gogebic County Sheriff's Department, and Hurley Police Department were on hand to answer questions as well.
GIANT has created a tip line (1-855-644-4219) and an email addresss (giantdrugteam@
gmail.com) for people to use anonymously if they are fearful of sharing drug concerns.
GIANT is a "community effort," IPSD Director Andrew DiGiorgio said. "We all work as a team. The community is part of the team, and we need them to be diligent and aware of what's going on in their neighborhood."
Red flags include a high amount of traffic to a residence, open windows in winter or a strong chemical smell.
Most drug overdoses include the use of prescription medications, Clemens said, with commonly abused prescriptions including morphine, fentanyl, vicodin, oxycodone, methadone and amphetamines.
Prescription abusers access the medications from the family medicine cabinet, relatives, friends or by doctor shopping, where they visit doctors until they find one that will write them the prescription that they want, Clemens said. Youth trade their prescriptions with friends for money or items like cell phone covers.
Community members can help prevent prescription drug abuse by using local drop boxes, located at the Gogebic County Sheriff's Department, Iron County Sheriff's Department, and Michigan State Police's Wakefield Post. "There's no need to keep unused medications," DiGiorgio said. "No questions asked."
Unused medications ought not to be flushed down the toilet, as they can get into the water supply that way.
The elderly face the problem of drug abusers breaking into their homes to steal prescriptions. IPSD has a policy not to make reports of stolen medications anymore, DiGiorgio said. "People would use the police reports to get refills of prescriptions."
Aspirus Grand View Hospital's emergency room has created a new policy not to distribute pain medications to patients unless they see a primary health care provider in many situations, Clemens said, in an effort to curb "doctor shopping."
Another problem with prescription drugs, including medical marijuana, comes when people use their own prescriptions with warning labels, and then drive, Clemens said. "If the label says: 'Don't drive or operate heavy machinery;' they aren't lying."
Methamphetamine use is also prominent in the area, with 47 meth lab clean-ups in the Upper Peninsula this year, and 25 meth cases in Gogebic County since Jan. 1 including labs, meth use and attempts to purchase its ingredients, Clemens said. Michigan has had 682 cases in the same time frame, up 20 percent from last year. The drug is a highly addictive stimulant.
Meth labs are very dangerous, because many meth users or dealers use a method called either "one pot" or "shake and bake," Clemens said, with the cooking of the chemicals being in a bottle as small as a water or soft drink bottle. Each bottle is considered a lab.
The size means that those cooking the drugs can put the bottle somewhere outside of their home while it cooks, sometimes in a backpack, Clemens said, and passerby could pick up what looks to be litter on the side of the road, only to have the bottle or backpack explode, as the portable meth lab is very flammable. This way, if something goes wrong with it, it is not in their possession if an explosion occurs.
"If you see what looks like a discarded pop bottle with a hose coming out of the top, leave it alone," Clemens said, "Call us."
The GIANT team has six members trained in cleaning up the labs, Clemens said, with funding from the Drug Enforcement Agency allowing members to travel to Quantico, Va ., for training. This has cut costs substantially, because it used to cost up to $10,000 for each clean up.
Signs of meth use include sunken eyes, scabs, and "meth mouth," caused by long term use, and includes decayed teeth and burns on the mouth. Abusers of meth are up for days at a time, Clemens said.
Ingredients in meth include various acids and pseudoephedrine, which is why commonly used cold medicines are now behind the counter at pharmacies, Clemens said. If someone asks you to buy them the cold medication, it could be a sign that they are cooking meth.
In Mississippi, pseudoephedrine was made available by prescription only in 2011, Clemens said, which resulted in a drop in meth labs from 912 in 2010 to five in 2012.
Sentencing for methamphetamine offenses in Gogebic County average between four and eight years for first time offenses, Clemens said, up to 20 years.
Another commonly used drug in the area is marijuana, which users access through friends, relatives, dispensaries and even parents, Clemens said. Ironwood has dealt with more than 100 cases of marijuana abuse in the past year, with regular users as young as 10.
Synthetics and analogues
Synthetics such as bath salts and analogues are being used more frequently, with many people purchasing them using the internet. Such products are labeled as "not for human consumption," Clemens said, and often come from Asian countries.
Symptoms of usage can include hallucinations or delusions, high blood pressure, suicidal impulses, paranoia, insomnia, and foaming at the mouth.
Clemens said that one young man he helped who was under the influence of bath salts was outside in minus 35 degree weather barefoot, in shorts and a T-shirt, talking in circles. When he was told he was being arrested, the young man said he was going to "portal himself to a safe place."
A recent bust involved "insect repellant," purchased online, which law enforcement are learning about and getting a handle on, DiGiorgio said.
The synthetic drugs and analogues were initially legal, then as their effects became known, they were banned one locality at a time. Manufacturers side step the law by changing the chemical makeup of their drugs one molecule at a time.
Other drugs that have been found to be in the area include cocaine, crack, MDMA, ecstasy and heroin.
Clemens serves as a school resource officer, going into schools to teach students in grades 3-12.
"We used to start teaching students about drugs in ninth grade," DiGiorgio said, but officers have encountered students in fourth grade who are already using drugs.
The high turnout at the presentation is a good sign, DiGiorgio said. "It means that you care about the community."
The collaboration among the many departments is a way to face the problem of drugs proactively, DiGiorgio said. The problem is not going away by itself, and more needs to be done to protect the community.