Synthetic drug use creates risk for teens, young adults

by BRANDI ORTIZ//News Editor

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While states are focusing on how to control the legalization of marijuana, they might not be paying close enough attention to the lab-created drugs that are even harder to control and are destroying families.

In West Texas, synthetic drugs have caused many families heartache and grief. In 2015, Lubbock’s University Medical Center (UMC) helped to create NEIDS, Nurses Educating on Illegal Drugs & Synthetics. NEIDS is an outreach group whose “mission is to provide education to the public on the health risks and hazards of the use of synthetic marijuana and other harmful drugs.”

“We are Emergency Room nurses, and we have noticed an influx of patients that were dying due to synthetic drug use,” said Charlie Williams, one of the co-founders of NEIDS and a registered nurse. “None of our medications worked, and a lot of our patients were dying. It kind of fueled our fire to go out and educate the public, because they honestly don’t know that they are ingesting poison.”

According to Williams, with both Lubbock and Levelland being college towns, synthetic marijuana is one of the more common synthetic drugs.

Synthetic marijuana, or synthetic cannabinoids, as some law officials prefer to call them, has been on retail shelves since the early 2010s.

Going by names such as “K2”, “SPICE”, and many more, the product consists of dried plant leaves sprayed with synthetic cannabinoid like THC, the primary ingredient in marijuana. Some retailers package them with names that could appeal to kids, such as “Scooby Snax” or “Blueberry Haze.”

Per findings of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, many users are 12 years old to 20 years old. Paxton also found that the younger kids believe that “because the drugs are ‘fake marijuana,’ they will be less likely to hurt them.” But oh, are they so wrong. According to Williams, just like other lab-created drugs, synthetic marijuana offers the heady highs and the dangerous lows.

“Now we are seeing a lot of the aftermath that these drugs leave,” says Williams. “Whether it be permanent anxiety, heart conditions, seizure disorders. Many of them are not the same person as they were before.”

Many users have described being high on synthetic drugs is “what hell is,” leaving users with violent and irrational behavior, becoming paralyzed, even committing murder, according to Williams.

“Legal Weed” has often been described as “herbal incense” or plant fertilizer. But even then, a 2012 National Institute on Drug Abuse survey found that 11 percent of high schoolers have tried them, and more than 11,000 ER visits were associated with the drug.

“You don’t know what is in [synthetic drugs],” says Williams. “The chemical compound comes from China, and who knows what is in that. The list of ingredients found from reverse MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) lists things like chloroform. All of these chemicals and ingredients say,‘If ingested, can be harmful or deadly.’ Then people who get it here, lace it with other chemicals, like Drano, ammonia. So, you don’t know what is in the drug.”

NEIDS has originally only done presentations at small schools. But after word got around of their program, they were contacted to testify in Austin before the State Legislature.

“In the state of Texas, they made four bills making the sale of synthetic drugs illegal based on our testimony,” says Williams.

After the Legislature passed the so-called “analogue laws,” which restricted the sale of look-alike drugs, synthetic cannabinoids seemed to disappear from retail counters. But, in 2015, calls to the nation’s 55 poison control centers about synthetic drug overdoses increased from the 3,700 calls in 2014 to more than 7,800 calls in 2015.

Williams says she sees a case of synthetic drugs on a daily basis.

“Just last week, I had two patients in the same zone that were both on synthetic marijuana and were causing problems,” says Williams. “One guy wrecked his car, and the other was smoking in his room.”

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, synthetic drugs weren’t always meant to be dangerous. Instead, they began with the best of intentions, as an attempt to create a safe, medicinal and legal form of marijuana. Researchers had been interested in developing synthetic forms of THC in the hope of developing a licensed drug that could relieve the symptoms of previous forms of synthetic drugs. After a chemist at Clemson University, John W. Huffman, published his results from creating hundreds of synthetic cannabinoids (JWH-007), a new drug was produced in Germany that included plant leaves sprayed with chemicals so it could be smoked and consumed. The drug was being sold as synthetic marijuana under the name of JWH-018, also known as, Spice, one of the most common synthetic drugs in West Texas.

“If you want to get high, do not do this drug,” said Williams. “Nobody who has used this drug comes in and says, ‘it was great, it was a great high.’ They are only complaining of being sick or ill.”

If you or someone you know has taken synthetic drugs, seek help.

“Call somebody who can help,” said Williams. “Do not try to help them yourself, a lot of time, people who take synthetic drugs have hurt our paramedics, officers, fire department, and our nurses. Patients that are on bath salts and synthetic marijuana have killed people, have done a lot of damage. I recommend to just call someone who is able to help them.”

[Photo illustration by TOVI OYERVIDEZ/PLAINSMAN PRESS]

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