Recently in Rice County a tobacco store owner pled guilty to possessing synthetic drugs in his store. The owner mistakenly believed synthetic drugs were legal to sell and harmless. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to synthetic drugs. Synthetic drugs were first reported in the U.S. in December 2008, when a shipment of “Spice” was seized and analyzed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Dayton, Ohio. Since 2008, an increasingly expanding array of synthetic drugs became available to the public at almost any local tobacco shop or head shop. Dealer’s market synthetic drugs or “synthetic marijuana,” using street names such as K2 or Spice and are often sold in legal retail outlets as “herbal incense” or “bath salts.” And while these products are marketed as legal and safe, they actually present a clear and present danger to the public. Synthetic drugs cause significant abuse, addiction, overdoses, and emergency room visits. Those who use synthetic drugs often suffer side effects such as vomiting, anxiety, seizures, and organ damage and even death. In 2012, a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported 11,406 emergency department visits involving a synthetic chemical product during 2010. In a 2013 report, SAMHSA reported 28,531 emergency department visits, an increase of 2.5 times from 2011.
Synthetic drugs, as opposed to “natural drugs”, are chemically produced in a clandestine laboratory. Their chemical structure can be either identical to or molecularly slightly different from naturally occurring drugs, and their effects are designed to mimic or even enhance those of natural drugs. Manufacturers of these products are not regulated and anonymous to the end users. These synthetic drugs are not intended for legitimate medical use. They contain slightly modified molecular structures of illegal or controlled substances, and they are modified in order to circumvent existing drug laws. Many who use these drugs mistakenly believe the chemicals cannot be detected by drug testing protocols of employers and government agencies. In most cases, the drug screening tests will detect the analogue of a substance closely related to the chemical.
Synthetic drugs present a rapidly emerging threat to Rice County youth. “Smokable” herbal blends marketed as being “legal” and providing a marijuana-like high are becoming increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults, because they are easily available. Young people fail to understand synthetic drugs are more potent and dangerous other drugs. According to the 2012 Monitoring the Future survey of youth drug-use trends, one in nine 12th graders in America reported using synthetic cannabinoids in the past year. This rate, unchanged from 2011, puts synthetic cannabinoids as the second most frequently used illegal drug among high school seniors after marijuana.
The perception of marijuana and synthetic marijuana as harmless puts users of synthetic drugs and our public’s health at risk. The contents and effects of synthetic drugs are unpredictable due to a constantly changing variety of chemicals used in manufacturing processes devoid of quality controls and government regulatory oversight. Health warnings have been issued by numerous public health authorities and poison control centers describing the adverse health effects associated with the use of synthetic drugs, but we all must teach our children that simply because a product is sold in a store or over the internet does not make it safe or legal to use. I invite anyone with questions regarding synthetic drugs to call my office or attend upcoming seminaries in our community regarding synthetic drugs. My number is (507) 332-6103 and information on our website or Facebook page will be available soon on upcoming seminars on synthetic drugs.