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Laws help, but synthetic drugs remain a danger

Jan. 15, 2013 @ 06:40 AM

In recent years, thousands of Americans have found out first-hand about the effects of synthetic drugs manufactured to replicate such outlawed substances as marijuana, cocaine and meth. And they aren’t good.

Seizures, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, muscle spasms, nausea and vomiting, intense hallucinations and psychotic episodes, even death. Those consequences have been documented by emergency room personnel and poison control centers across the country — consequences that warrant the full attention of government officials, law enforcement agencies and the public alike.

The dangers posed by these synthetic drugs and the wisdom of avoiding them will be the primary messages on Thursday when the Cabell County Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership conducts a Synthetic Drugs Town Hall meeting. The session, free and open to the public, will be from 6 to 8 p.m. in Room BE5 in Marshall University’s Memorial Student Center.

Synthetic cannabinoids such as K2 and hallucinogens, stimulants and synthetic cocaine-like substances being sold under brand names including Ivory Wave began to find their way in adult-oriented shops and drug paraphernalia stores a few years ago. Although they were labeled as not for human consumption, the packaging of the products made an altogether different statement.

But as they became popular as supposedly legal substitutes for banned substances, so did the number of problems associated with them. In 2010, poison centers nationwide responded to about 3,200 calls related to synthetic marijuana and bath salts, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. In 2011, that number jumped to more than 13,000 calls, the association reported. A troubling aspect was that 60 percent of the cases involved patients 25 and younger, meaning young people were being victimized.

The trouble with the synthetic chemicals at the root of these products is that they have not been vetted by any authority regarding their safety, and the potency can vary from packet to packet of each product. So users really have no way to know what the impact of taking them might be.

Governments have responded. Last summer, a federal law was enacted to ban the sale of substances that most often made up these synthetic products. West Virginia also banned synthetic drugs effective last year. That has proven to be partially effective, authorities say. In 2012, overdoses from bath salts in West Virginia totaled 43, compared to 250 the year before, according to Dr. Elizabeth Scharman, director of the West Virginia Poison Control Center.

But Scharman also told the Exponent Telegram of Clarksburg that synthetic stimulants continue to be a problem in the Mountain State because makers began modifying ingredients to try to circumvent the laws.

As synthetic drugs continue to pose a threat, it’s important that the public becomes informed and aware of what individuals and communities can do to combat it. Thursday’s town hall meeting offers that opportunity, and we urge people to take advantage of it.

The well-being of someone you love could depend on what is learned at this session.



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