Pubdate: Sun, 03 Jun 2007
Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Copyright: 2007 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas
Author: Alex Branch
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


At first, the methamphetamine Kimberly Garner smoked kept her awake
for five, six, sometimes seven days.

Eventually her body built a tolerance to the drug, and she added
Ecstasy to her daily meth high. The meth made her teeth hurt, so she
took Xanax to knock herself out.

She felt like a zombie.

"I couldn't remember my name," said Garner, 23, of Fort Worth. "My
body couldn't function."

Garner was lucky: She survived a potentially lethal combination of
drugs and is now in treatment. But the number of people dying from
mixed-drug overdoses in Tarrant County is steadily rising, from 17 in
2004 to 41 in 2006, according to the Tarrant County medical examiner's

Eight mixed-drug deaths have been documented in 2007. Toxicology
results can take six weeks, so other cases may be pending, said Linda
Anderson, spokeswoman for the medical examiner.

Stevie Hansen, chief of addiction services for Mental Health Mental
Retardation of Tarrant County, said: "These days people are looking to
tweak their highs, to get the perfect chemical balance. You're always
looking for the right blend, and that's how you end up killing yourself."

The increase in deaths does not appear to be the result of a new
dangerous drug mixture. In Dallas, the drug known as "cheese," a
mixture of heroin and nighttime cold medicine, has been blamed for 21
deaths, but Anderson said no deaths have been documented in Tarrant

The reason for the spike in mixed-drug use is the abundance of
prescription medications and more homemade street drugs laced with
everything from shoe polish to rat poison, experts say. Drugs can also
be bought on the Internet.

Addicts, it appears, have more options than ever.

"People have more access to drugs," said Nizam Peerwani, Tarrant
County's medical examiner. "It's not that there are new, more
dangerous drugs; it's how easily people can get them."

The majority of the toxicology reports for fatal mixed-drug overdoses
in Tarrant County last year included prescription drugs. In fact, the
national overdose rate has risen steadily with the increase in drugs
prescribed for depression, pain and anxiety, experts say.

Few of those who died from overdoses appear to have mixed a deliberate
combination of drugs, Anderson said. More likely, they just took
whatever they could get their hands on.

A 53-year-old Tarrant County man died this year with a staggering
array of drugs in his system: hydrocodone, a narcotic pain reliever;
carisoprodol, a skeletal muscle relaxer; meprobamate, an anti-anxiety
medication; amitriptyline, an antidepressant; and fentanyl, another
pain reliever.

He died in bed, his death ruled an accident.

"What we're dealing with are drugs with wonderful and important
intended uses," said Dr. Kenneth Hoffman, medical officer with the
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in
Rockville, Md. "But now people are taking drugs that do different
things to your body for their opposing effects. They can shut your
body down."

The rise in drug mixers is seen not only in the morgue but also in
treatment centers.

"Ten years ago, we still had people addicted to one thing," said
Hansen, of Mental Health Mental Retardation. "Now those people are
almost all gone. Now it's always like three to five drugs."

The organization's main 62-patient treatment center is almost always
full, she said. Helping a recovering drug user with cross-addictions
requires a more holistic treatment.

"The same physical factors are not going on, and the withdrawal is
different," she said. "There are different cycles the drugs cause in
the brain. You can't just focus on their one addiction."

At the 91-bed inpatient Volunteers of America treatment center, Daryl
Dulany, a clinical social worker, said he sees more addicts taking so
many drugs that they aren't sure what was in them.

Drugs today are stronger, more accessible and more likely to be
homemade, he said. To maximize profits, dealers "cut" their products
with shoe polish, rat poison or laundry detergent.

"It's not always just different drugs you're taking," he said. "It's
whatever awful things it's already mixed with."

'They just take them'

Young people experimenting with drugs are among the most at risk for
overdose, addiction experts say.

Through April, four people younger than 20 had fatally overdosed this
year, according to the medical examiner.

Police in some cities across the country have reported "pharm parties"
where young people take whatever prescription drugs they can swipe
from relatives' or friends' medicine cabinets.

"They don't know what the drugs do or what can happen," Hansen said.
"They just take them."

Not helping matters are dealers who target youths with
friendly-sounding drugs like "cheese" and "strawberry meth." Fort
Worth police reported two traffic stops in which the occupants were
found with what was believed to be cheese.

Fort Worth school security officers were trained to spot cheese after
it appeared in Dallas schools. But officers have seen no evidence of
it, said Lt. Jon Grady of the Fort Worth school security initiative.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed," Grady said. "But sooner or later,
you have to believe it will get here, and that's too dangerous a drug
not to be prepared for."

Fort Worth police have seen strawberry meth -- meth treated with pink
coloring and strawberry flavoring -- only once, during a traffic stop
in January, said Lt. Dean Sullivan, a police spokesman. But last
month, Lake Worth police seized about 400 grams of strawberry meth
after officers found a man sleeping in his car.

"If you have a kid in high school already experimenting with heroin or
meth," Dulany said, "think how many drugs they be might taking when
they get a little older."

Nationally, accidental overdoses rose from about 11,155 in 1999 to
almost 19,838 in 2004, a 78 percent increase, according to a report by
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The greatest increase
was among Anglo females.

Deaths from mixed-drug overdoses in Tarrant County.

17 In 2004.

41 In 2006.

8 Documented so far this year.
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