Drug prevention programs trying to keep up with ever-changing drug culture

'Gray death' the latest drug to hit the streets

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - A new warning is being issued in Palm Beach County about a drug cocktail called "Grey Death."

Medical examiners in Alabama and Georgia said it's killed people there and now the drug has made its way to the area.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office issued the warning on Wednesday night. "Grey Death" is a trifecta of fentanyl, heroin and a deadly designer drug called U-4770.  Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine while U-4770 is eight times more potent than morphine. The combination of both of these ingredients plus heroin makes it even more dangerous.

The mixture resembles concrete mixing powder but can vary in texture from chunky, rock-like material to a fine powder. 

Authorities say even touching it can kill, as the drug can absorb through the skin easily. During drug raids in other states, law enforcement has to wear protective gear while handling "Grey Death."

While paramedics here in South Florida prepare for the latest round in the opioid crisis, they say the key to solving it could lie with the next generation.

Delray Beach Fire Rescue expects to go through a case of Narcan by the end of each day.

"We're ahead of where we were last year. On track to run more overdoses than last year. We're responding to way more calls in general, year over year," said Capt. Kevin Saxton. "If it does get into Delray beach, it's going to cause us to be running way more serious overdoses where people are unfortunately dying."

Paramedics in other states have reported that narcan -- the antidote designed to save people who overdose -- doesn't work on people who overdose on "Grey Death."

"It's challenging because it seems like there's something new almost every other week. We know there are different substances being used to cut heroin," said Saxton. "It almost seems like that's the natural outflow where whoever manufactures these narcotics are trying to make it to where the users have their high longer or stronger. It does seem like the trend is to use drugs that are more and more potent so its harder for narcan to reverse the effects of it.

Saxton believes the key to solving the crisis is prevention.

"The easiest way to be clean is to never start in the first place," he said.

That's where Martin County Sheriff's Office deputy Tony Dalem steps in with the D.A.R.E. program.

"Typically when it comes to the drug generation, we see it all the time -- the changes," he said."If we don't keep up with the changes than we wouldn't know how to enforce it."

The program targets fifth graders, ages 10 and 11.

"How to make the right choices. If you are involved in a situation that you don't know or not prepared to deal with, think about what you're about to do," said Dalem.

Dalem, who has worked with MCSO for nearly 20 years, said he's working hard to keep up with the latest drug trends to warn hundreds of students at elementary schools across the area.

"I believe if you don't get them at this type of age right now, between 10 11 and 12, it leaves an open door for curiosity," he said."People hear it on the news. They see it on the paper. People talk about it all the time. So we need to inform these kids with basic knowledge of these things will do to people."

The Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition said the trends don't just involve illegal substances.

"Most heroin addicts started out as prescription drugs. Opioids such as Ritalin and oxicodine," said Lavidah Johnson, a program coordinator for the non-profit organization. "There's a lot more ADHD cases that have come out and most of those kids are on Ritalin."

One of the many programs they provide throughout Palm Beach County is an over-the-counter medication safety course about how to use prescribed medication. The organization also enlists teens to speak to students during the courses.

"What we try to instill in the parents and kids are that this is a prescription, that they shouldn't abuse. It should be taken as directed and nothing more," said Johnson.

The coalition sees a new drug pop up in the scene about every two months and coordinators have to create a new education plan with each new trend.

"Not necessarily a new thing, it could be a new ingredient or just a new name with an extra ingredient," said Johnson.

Palm Beach County Schools do not receive funding for drug education programs so they rely on the Substance Awareness Coalition.

The coalition has a website called www.dontbeaguineapig.com where they post the latest trend in drugs, warning symptoms and helpful tips for parents.

Saxton said his department has not seen gray death personally but they are prepared for it.

"We have protocols in place, plans in place. For just about anything we have a plan for it. We continue to train for whatever the call may be. We're up on all of our advanced life support," he said. We're always ready for whatever it is that may come, for us... it's just trying to stay ahead of the mental toll that takes."

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