INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Within a 48-hour period, up to 25 homeless people are suspected of overdosing on "flakka" at the Wheeler Mission or the surrounding area downtown, according to IMPD.
The shelter’s chief development officer, Steve Kerr, says one person remained on life support as of Thursday afternoon.
"I seen a guy bite a guy’s neck," said Dennis Waterman, a guest at the shelter. "They were just falling out like, just dropping like flies around here."
The men's shelter director, William Bumphus, said it started Tuesday night when all of the sudden people started acting abnormal one after the other.
"One guy if I remember correctly, one guy he ran into a wall. One guy started shouting, one guy tried to bite another guy in the neck, one guy just started throwing up and convulsing, one guy just fell out he had you know no clue where he was," Bumphus said.
First responders were called. IEMS said it saw a spike in call volume for the area and a few patients who were very violent.
"One of the many problems with synthetic drugs is the extreme variability of symptomology. You'll see a patient that may just be anxious, depressed, they may be just nausious or sweating or just feel off as a result of the drug use and everything from there all the way up to what we would call excited delirium," said Mike Hayward, IEMS' chief of operations.
IEMS said it had a total of 24 incidents from Jan. 31 to Feb. 1 in the area between Alabama, College, Washington and New York. Those include primary impressions of everything from chest pain to overdoses, though a more detailed assessment may reveal a result of an overdose. IEMS said a normal run load for that area is about eight per day.
"What we're seeing is really a product of certain people coming into a neighborhood with the express intent of taking advantage of a very vulnerable population, and that's the homeless population that naturally you will find around the Mission" Hayward said.
IMPD said they started gathering information as result when they were called to the shelter Tuesday. The shelter allowed IMPD K9s into the facility to search for narcotics.
"I saw IMPD had half a dozen guys lined up against Wheeler Mission and they were being patted down," said Brian Whisman, a guest at Wheeler Mission.
According to IMPD, at least 21 to 25 homeless people experienced “medical issues” consistent with the use of “flakka,” a street name for spice. Police say this particular mixture may have included other illegal substances like PCP.
Throughout the investigation, local authorities and hospital officials collaborated to identify the distributor of the drugs. As a result, a person of interest was identified and arrested. That person’s name has not been announced.
"We think a lot of these guys are just preying on the homeless and taking advantage of the men who are at the shelter," Bumphus said.
Kerr said they believe someone may have brought the drug in through their clothing. The shelter's security system includes wanding down people who enter, but if it isn't metal it wouldn't be detected. They then believe men went to the bathroom where they used the drug.
Kerr said this time of year they typically have a 50 to 1 guest to staff ratio which can be tough. He said they have elevated six part-time staff members to full-time status and that they have a zero tolerance policy for alcohol and drugs.
"But we will work with any man who wants help. Our first objective is safety of all of our guests and the safety of our staff," Kerr said "If a man is dealing or even using narcotics in our facility we'll get him help. But if he's coming in our facility selling and will not cease that activity he will be no longer invited as a guest," Kerr said.
Anyone with additional information about this incident is asked to call the Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana at 317-262-8477.