LAKEVIEW — An audience of about 40 gathered Tuesday evening at Lakeview High School to hear law enforcement officials and drug-free coalition members from Gratiot and Montcalm counties talk about the dangers of current drug trends.
Teens and adults are turning to synthetic drugs when regular marijuana isn’t accessible and to avoid the legal ramifications. These drugs are marketed as everyday products — incense, potpourri, plant food and bath salts.
Although labeled “not for human consumption,” manufacturers and store owners know that’s exactly how they’re being used. More alarming, perhaps, is that there is no age limit to purchase these products.
“We pretend that it’s not here,” said Lakeview Police Chief Darin Dood. “But it is here and the school’s on board with doing something about it.”
Lakeview High School Principal Gary Jensen said the student handbook handles “real and look-alike” drugs the same.
Tobacco – don’t be fooled by the label
“The tobacco companies are very good at targeting their advertising to our kids,” said Lisa Cannon, Gratiot County Substance Abuse Prevention coordinator. “We are a very visual society, a media society.”
Hookah, snus, dissolvables, nicotine toothpicks, e-cigarettes, flavored cigars and roll-your-own tobacco come in bright-colored packages and may not be easily identified as tobacco.
Snus – an alternative to traditional chewing tobacco – is packaged similar to gum and comes in a teabag-like form in a variety of flavors. Its no-spit property and easily concealed packaging make it popular among teens. Dissolvables such as Orbs are packaged like mints, while flavored cigars look like Burt’s Bees lipstick.
‘If we don’t pay attention to what’s going on, our kids may be having these things and we may think it’s a pack of gum or a stick of lipstick,” Cannon said.
Synthetic marijuana — unpredictable
Synthetic marijuana is marketed under many names, but is generally referred to as K2 or Spice. It produces a marijuana-like high, but is three to five times more potent, according to Sgt. Richard Ramerez of the St. Louis Police Department.
This big money maker – available online and in most tobacco stores and gas stations – is priced by the gram and smoked.
“It’s basically a dried blend of herbs and spices that’s sprayed with synthetic chemicals,” Ramerez explained.
Sold as incense or potpourri, these products are not subject to U.S. Food & Drug Administration regulations. There are no large-scale studies on health effects and toxicity in humans, so reactions are unpredictable.
Rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion and hallucinations are reported side effects.
Treating a drug overdose can be difficult even when you know which drug was ingested. More dangerous, however, is not knowing.
At a Skittles party, kids unload the medicine cabinet of prescription and non-prescription drugs into a party bowl, Ramerez explained. These pills are consumed by handfuls, much like Skittles candy, with no regard for the inherent risk of drug interactions.
Parents are advised to keep medicine locked up and take unwanted prescription drugs to designated drop sites. Local police departments should have information about nearby drop sites.
Not your grandma’s bath salts
“Bath salts” aren’t used in the bathtub at all.
“The term ‘bath salts’ is the marketing portion.” said Matt Schooley of the Alma City Police Department. “It’s the way to get around things.”
Use of bath salts produces mind-altering effects similar to cocaine or meth and is extremely addicting. Youths are putting themselves in danger by believing they’ll be OK if they’ve used them before without a major incident, according to Schooley, who has airlifted kids due to elevated heart rates, high blood pressure, delusions and suicidal thoughts.
“The people making this are not chemists, so there’s no real formula that’s going to be the same every time,” he said.
In September 2011, bath salts were banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), listing three specific chemicals in the ban — mephedrone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and methylone.
That doesn’t mean they don’t still exist.
A recent DEA presentation revealed there are 117 possible compounds in bath salts, according to Drug Free Montcalm Coordinator Lynn Cooper. These compounds are constantly being altered by manufacturers to bypass bans and get a “chemical cousin” back on store shelves.
“They (bath salt companies) know what they’re doing, and somehow the good guys have to get ahead of that,” Schooley said. “The problem we’re having is wording is so specific that the people who are making these products find other chemicals. We have to figure out a way to not be so specific within this legislation we’re trying to pass.”
Lawmakers are constantly at work to keep these dangerous substances off store shelves, but manufacturers bypass the system by continually altering product names and chemical compositions as soon as bans are enacted.
Without drug bans in place, law enforcement officers have no authority to apprehend perpetrators.
The current system takes months before the legislature can ban a substan