Synthetic drugs impact local

By DeeAnna Haney | Dec 28, 2012

Unfortunately, prescription pills aren’t the only drug battle police and parents are fighting in Haywood County.

Fairly new on the scene in terms of drug history, synthetic drugs have only been around since about 2009.

The chemical-soaked leaves in synthetic marijuana being sold as incense and potpourri are widely used as a legal alternative to weed. They are even getting into the hands of early teens, who are winding up in the hospital as a result.

In a report recently released from the federal Drug Abuse Warning Network, synthetic marijuana sent 11,406 people to the emergency room in 2010. About one-third of those were children ages 12 to 17.

In early December, at least three people in Haywood County were rushed to the hospital after smoking a synthetic marijuana called "Bizarro."

"I received a report of two teenagers that were taken to the emergency room and at least one suffered from a heart attack from the stuff," he said.

The next weekend, a 51-year-old man passed out and his heart rate could not be controlled.

Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed has been on the forefront of helping raise public awareness about the dangers of synthetic drugs.

"I’ve had a lot of phone calls from a lot of parents about it. You never know what chemicals will be sprayed on this stuff. We’ve sent it to the lab and the same chemical that’s in Raid has been found in this stuff," he said.

This year, physicians and social workers at the MedWest-Haywood Behavioral Health Unit began seeing a sharp increase in synthetic drug users ending up in a psychotic state.

Because there is no test to reveal whether a person is under the influence of synthetics, doctors must rely on the patient to tell them.

Dr. David Wangerin-Lile, PA-C, listed hallucinations of insects and spiders, auditory hallucinations of people talking, severe insomnia and mood changes resulting in manic behavior are some of the extreme side effects he’s seen in patients.

Some patients addicted to synthetics have remained in treatment at the facility for up to four weeks without much improvement.

Unlike alcohol or opiate addicts, who leave treatment with a chance of complete recovery, Wangerin-Lile said some synthetics users might be untreatable.

The drugs are so new, the medical community isn’t sure how to treat synthetic drug patients. And because of the nature of the drugs, a concoction of unknown chemicals, there is currently no way of knowing the long-term effects on the body.

Much like the prescription pill problem, legislation might help keep people off synthetic drugs.

In July, President Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, placing tougher penalties on those selling outlawed compounds of synthetic drugs.

But law enforcement continue to struggle to enforce laws, since manufacturers of the products skirt the law by creating a new combination of legal chemicals.

At the beginning of 2012, parents were calling Hollingsed almost daily asking him what the shiny packages were that they were finding in their children’s backpacks.

A grassroots effort from parents quickly grew, and meetings were organized to talk about what the community could do to see the products removed from convenience store shelves.

Shortly after, police chiefs sent a letter to store owners urging them to reconsider selling synthetic drugs, which has been successful, Hollingsed said.

Few stores have continued to sell them, but the products can still be ordered online from overseas. Having fewer suppliers decreased access for teens, but the problem remains.

Eventually, Hollingsed would like to see a sweeping ban of synthetics in the state, but that will take time.

Until then, much like with prescription pills, he believes prevention through raising awareness is the main way to keep people from using synthetics.