The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 20, 2012

Lack of regulation keeps ‘spice’ producers one step ahead of law

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The rapid development of new synthetic marijuana formulas keeps people who produce “spice” one step ahead of the law, and lack of regulation means one packet of the substance is not the same as the next.

Taylor Randolph, clinical director at Youth and Family Services, said when a urinalysis test to detect synthetic marijuana became available, it turned out about 40 percent of the people YFS monitors for drug abuse had been using it.

“The labs are starting to catch up with the users,” Randolph said. “All these chemists are trying to stay ahead of the testing.”

When a client’s urine test comes back positive, YFS addresses the issue in counseling sessions, Randolph said.

“Some people are saying it’s not as pleasurable of a high as marijuana,” Randolph said.

But some are saying much worse things about synthetic marijuana. One client could not escape the headaches and body aches the substance provoked. He eventually became suicidal and was sent, at his own request, to an in-patient detox program, Randolph said.

“We’ve also had similar experiences with a youth,” Randolph said. “Bad withdrawal, body aches, headaches.”

Randolph said as a counselor, he is concerned with why people choose to use incense, but he has other concerns as well.

“My main concern is for their health and their long-term mental health,” Randolph said.

Greg Icke, director of operations for Life EMS, said ambulances have been called many times to assist people who have been using “spice” or “bath salts.”

“We’ve had numerous calls for people on this,” Icke said. “We had six or seven in this last week.”

Icke said emergency medical technicians generally are summoned on reports of possible drug overdose. The caller might report the person is hallucinating, exhibits strange behavior, or is combative.

“The overdoses that are going on are not pills per se, it’s this stuff,” Icke said of the synthetic drugs. “We have very little treatment. We maintain the airways and transport them to the hospital. If it’s an opiate or a narcotic, we could do more for them, but not with this.”

Life EMS records show 40 calls reporting drug ingestion and 19 calls for substance abuse or drug abuse so far this year. Those numbers could include prescription drugs as well as alcohol, Icke said.

“These numbers are for the seemingly lucky ones, as the ones that might be in cardiac arrest are not included,” Icke said.

Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, said state drug authorities are pushing the Legislature to grant the agency director power to add chemicals to the list of controlled substances.

“In May 2011, two kids died and we had to wait almost a full year to get the bill written,” Woodward said. “That’s why we’re pushing for our Legislature to give our director emergency scheduling power.”

Woodward said “spice” arose suddenly and became popular. So did “bath salts.”

“Spice” is a mixture of herbal products made by spraying “synthetic marijuana” on it. “Bath salts” are a fine white power that is snorted or smoked by users, Woodward said.

“It’s kind of a synthetic version of methamphetamine or cocaine,” Woodward said. “Some users have been tazed by police and not felt it.”

Woodward said users he’s talked to often have said “spice” made them feel they were going to die.

“That’s a common quote: ‘I felt like I was going to die,’” Woodward said.

Woodward said parents should look at the websites their children visit, check receipts from stores to see what their children are buying, go to the store to ask about anything on the receipt that does not make sense, and look for empty packets in their children’s possession.

Woodward said his agency encourages people to notify local police if they are aware of stores selling it.

“We can’t solve this by ourselves,” Woodward said. “We need the public’s help. That’s why they need to know.”

He also hopes the public gets involved with grass-roots advocacy.

“We encourage the public to get involved in pressuring these stores to stop selling it,” Woodward said. “They can make plenty of money selling gas, cigarettes and soft drinks. They don’t need to sell this.”