PA narcotics agent talks drug crisis

The opioid crisis isn’t just about opioids.

At a recent visit to the Warren County Visitors Bureau, Senior Supervisory Special Agent Alan McGill of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, spoke with a group of visitors about some new trends in drug abuse in the state.

“It’s less about the drug of choice now and more about drug abuse,” McGill said. “It’s more of a drug epidemic than it is an opioid epidemic right now. They’ll take anything they can get.”

‘Anything’ can be a very risky proposition. “If they don’t know what they’re buying, this is what causes deaths,” McGill said. “You can’t trust the pills that you’re buying on the street.”

One of the trends is making pills that look like an opioid and putting stronger substances in them.

If a drug user is trying to buy oxycontin pills, but receives pills that look like oxycontin and contain fentanyl, taking the same amount they are accustomed to could kill them.

McGill said Prince died of an overdose on fentanyl and U-47700 — a synthetic opioid. “Prince was not addicted to fentanyl and U-47700,” McGill said. “He (thought he) was buying vicodin.”

A user who overdoses isn’t necessarily bad for the dealer.

A dealer will “load it up with fentanyl for the specific purpose of causing an overdose,” McGill said. Doing so makes it look like the seller has a high-quality product, McGill said. Drug users “will flock to them” thinking they will get a higher-potency drug. “It’s a business model.”

Fentanyl is strong enough and has contact properties that mean it will ‘dose’ a person who touches it.

McGill showed a ‘brick’ of fentanyl — how it is sometimes transported prior to packaging for consumption.

“If you touch this, you’re going to get dosed with it,” he said. “You can accidentally get dosed and end up dying. It does not take much.”

He then talked about some stronger fentanyl variants. Carfentanyl is about 20 times stronger than fentanyl. “Carfentanyl is mean for zoos — 1,000-pound animals,” he said. “People sometimes think it’s a good idea to bring this in.”

Promethazine with codeine — known by a number of street names including ‘purple drank’ when mixed with a carbonated drink and possibly a candy — is a popular target for thefts at pharmacies, he said.

“Cocaine is on the rise again,” McGill said.

As with other drugs, there are new dangers associated with cocaine use. As the drug is ‘cut’ or ‘stepped on’ with other materials, that mixture could be even more dangerous to the user.

Desperate users have tried buying pounds of poppy seeds that may have dust on them and steeping the dust into a tea. “The folks who are doing this are not bakers,” McGill said. “It’s not safe. It’s not dosage controlled.”

He talked about the manufacture of methamphetamine and showed a video of how a slight error can lead to an explosion. “If you suspect a lab, you want to get out of there,” he said.

Synthetic cannabis like K2 and Spice are “dangerous,” McGill said. “You don’t know what’s in it.”

Kratom is a plant with mind-altering effects. It may have some value in fighting addiction to opioids. But, ordering some carries the dangers of buying any unregulated substance. “The problem I have with Kratom is, you don’t know what you’re getting,” he said.

Sometimes, the drugs people are trying to get aren’t even addictive. He said Gabapentin is effective for staving off withdrawal symptoms and is therefor popular with drug users.

There are new ways to find out if people have taken certain drugs and new ways to keep people from stealing medications and catch people who succeed at it, McGill said.

One of the simplest steps that can help is to make changes at home.

“We want people to secure their medications,” McGill said.