More than 6,500 calls to Poison Control Centers have been made this year involving synthetic drugs, according to a press release.
A synthetic drug contains toxic chemicals that provide similar highs to cocaine or meth, but dangerously alter brain chemistry and often cause erratic, bizarre and violent behavior in the user.
San Bernardino Police Chief Robert Handy explains that these drugs are a serious concern for law enforcement officers. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is actively training on how to respond and handle a subject believed to be under the influence of synthetic drugs, according to officials.
In Barstow, one liquor store owner claimed to have never heard of individuals using synthetic drugs to get high, nor has he received customer requests for such things.
However, a local smoke shop owner stated his store used to sell “Spice” — often in colorful packets and labeled as potpourri or incense — until earlier this year, when city officials told him to stop. Still, he said he gets one or two people a week coming in to ask for them. At the time when they were being sold, “Scooby Snax” and “Diablo” were the most popular.
In May of this year, a case in Florida dubbed “the Miami zombie attack” received national attention. In an 18-minute security-camera filmed encounter, a nude 31-year-old man beat a homeless man unconscious, removed the man’s pants and bit most of his face above the beard, leaving him blind in both eyes.
Preliminary toxicology reports of the suspect revealed only the presence of marijuana, though Al Lamberti from the Broward Sheriff’s Department believed, with the suspect’s behavior consistent with someone high on “bath salts” — an increasingly generic term for a synthetic drug — that some new like drug untested for may have played a role.
And therein lies the problem.
Regina Weatherspoon-Bell, of the High Desert Community Coalition, said her group is trying to bring more awareness to an issue that many are “not clear on what the signs are” and that doesn’t show on standard drug tests.
“We are seeing it in the behavior, but we’re not recognizing it or making the connection,” she said.
Earlier this year, community members issued letters asking store owners to cease the sell of synthetic products. After meeting with the HDCC, Adelanto’s mayor, Cari Thomas, pursued an ordinance banning synthetic drugs spice and bath salts in August, making Adelanto the first High Desert city to do so.
In July, President Obama signed a bill into law, known as the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, banning 15 chemical structures found in synthetic drugs. However, it doesn’t account for recombinations of these structures and some believe there are just too many to keep up with.
“Until we have legislation in place that bans all 63 major ingredients,” Weatherspoon-Bell said, “we’re just replacing one evil with another.”
News reports in the last few days have synthetic drug-use in Europe at an all-time high and the number of synthetic drugs sold online keep rising.
In most circumstances, these drugs are marketed toward children, packaged in bright colors and under friendly-sounding names like “Ivory Wave” and “Vanilla Sky.”
“A lot of the packaging goes after kids,” Weatherspoon-Bell said. “If it looks like candy — pop rocks or something — who are you going after? Who’s your demographic?
“We have a tendency in our society to talk only about trends, but bottomline is, this is killing people,” she continued. “If it hits close to home, we then start to worry about it. But, we’re already there.”