The black jeep had slammed into a parked saloon in a quiet suburban street, just beside a house having a yard sale. Inside were two middle-aged people who looked like corpses.
Their eyes were closed, their mouths wide open, their bodies slumped together in deathly embrace. The man’s head was tilted backwards while the woman at the wheel lay across his shoulder. A syringe lay between her legs, and another was on the dashboard.
It was a grotesque scene. A couple of drug addicts so desperate to get their fix that they had injected right outside their dealer’s house – and were then hit instantly by the effects of a deadly new synthetic opioid many times more powerful than heroin that is flooding the streets of America.
The police swung into action. Such scenes are wearily familiar in the country’s overdose capital. ‘C’mon girl,’ said one officer as he syringed Narcan – a drug that counters opioids – into the slumped woman’s nose. ‘Here she comes. Wake up, little Suzy.’
Pictured: Drug addicts so desperate to get their fix that they injected outside their dealer’s house and crashed into a parked saloon in a quiet suburban street. An officer syringes Narcan – a drug that counters opioids – into the slumped woman’s nose
Her eyes opened and she looked at me. ‘What’s going on?’ she whispered. You could almost see her brain start to function.
Then came panic as she recognised police, followed by terror when she saw her partner laid out on the verge where he had been dragged by officers. It was an astonishing scene: from near-death to walking – and even asking for her purse – in less than five minutes.
But her 40-year-old partner was less lucky: he was rushed to hospital after 12 shots of Narcan failed to revive him, a common occurrence as this toxic new tide of opioids – drugs derived from opium and now more commonly man-made versions – takes a grip.
Witnesses said another passenger ran from the crash scene. ‘They’ll find her dead tomorrow,’ said deputy sheriff Andy Teague after searching nearby streets. ‘Or maybe she’ll access an empty house, overdose there and they won’t find her body for six months.’
Such incidents are all too familiar in Dayton, Ohio. For this town, celebrated as the home of the Wright Brothers and birthplace of aviation, is now the epicentre of a horrific epidemic ripping apart families and communities.
The statistics are extraordinary. Last year there were at least an estimated 59,000 drug deaths across America – a toll greater than those from guns, car crashes or AIDS at the peak of its epidemic. This drains $80billion from the economy.
Most casualties are white, male and middle-aged; many are middle-class. Overdoses are already the biggest killer of Americans under 50.
Yet this year the number of dead could double as the frighteningly strong man-made drugs flood the market – just as they are in Britain, where they have also started to kill scores of users.
First came fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin, followed by carfentanil, which is used to tranquillise elephants and is 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Just a single grain can kill.
Now an array of new opioids made in Chinese and Mexican laboratories are arriving on the streets.
Pictured: The victim after being revived by police. Her partner was not so lucky and had to be rushed to hospital after his overdose
One estimate predicts 650,000 Americans will die after taking these drugs in a decade – more than the population of central Manchester.
Last week President Donald Trump bowed to pressure and declared a national emergency, ensuring extra resources on the front line.
Montgomery County in Ohio, which includes Dayton, is currently thought to have highest rates of deadly overdoses in America.
It is expecting 800 drug deaths this year – more than triple its 2015 tally. The 420 already logged easily exceeds last year’s total.
Fatalities include an airline pilot and his wife, babies who have simply touched the drugs, infants given them by addicts, teenagers and students, parents and pensioners.
Dealers have also died from toxic inhalation while chopping up supplies. And three nurses had to be given Narcan after losing consciousness when treating an overdose patient on Thursday,
As I discovered during my visit to Dayton, this cruel and corrosive epidemic is devastating society in what was once a prosperous manufacturing town and home to a major car plant. And it has alarming consequences for the future.
‘This is sucking us dry,’ said Phil Plummer, the Dayton-born sheriff of Montgomery County. ‘The police are overwhelmed, the courts are backlogged, the jails are overflowing, the coroner has run out of room – and it is getting worse.
‘I spoke to a girl in jail who was about 21 and her mum put a needle in her aged 14. Now her mum is dead and the girl has a bad habit. It’s incredible to see this in Dayton.’
I went on patrol with his colleague Andy Teague, who told me that six years ago he had never seen a heroin overdose. In contrast, there were 12 overdoses on his patch during our four hours together, highlighting the explosive nature of this tragedy.
‘You are never far from opioids in this town,’ he told me after dealing with the car-crash couple. ‘That is an everyday occurrence now. We are in a war because the drug is taking lives, destroying families, and wrecking communities.’
Soon after setting off, we stopped at a burned-out house where we disturbed a woman injecting her fix. Teague went in first, holding his handgun with a torch attached in front of him. Amid the mess we instantly saw drug paraphernalia.
On a table was a big pile of crystal meth, enough for hundreds of hits. There was also a syringe filled with liquid, a rubber tube for a tourniquet, and opioid prescription pills scattered across the floor.
‘I would guess they have just stolen that meth since there is so much. I’ve never seen that much lying around in one place outside a bust,’ said Teague.
Dealers and users often mix opioids with drugs such as crystal meth and cocaine. Police told me that two free hits of these drugs are sometimes given away with marijuana to snare new customers; alternatively, it gets tossed though open car windows at petrol stations as a promotional tool.
First came fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin, followed by carfentanil, which is used to tranquillise elephants and is 10,000 times more potent than morphine
Addicts usually do not have a clue