Synthetic drugs have become a problem on the Middle Peninsula in recent years and professionals who deal with substance abusers and addicts have sought to learn more about them and their effects. Charles F. Gressard, a professor in the counseling education department at the College of William and Mary, recently addressed the topic for a group of professionals in Mathews.
Gressard’s audience included representatives from the local offices of community services, social services, probation and parole, public schools and the commonwealth’s attorney. Some were counselors who deal directly with substance abusers and addicts, while others were those who deal with their impact on society.
Mathews Social Services brought Gressard to the county through a training grant provided by the Owens Foundation in support of the county’s multidisciplinary team. The team, consisting of representatives from numerous state and local agencies, convenes to facilitate services for victims of child abuse and to assist the commonwealth’s prosecution in child abuse cases, according to Mathews Social Services Director Jo Ann Wilson-Harfst.
In introducing Gressard, Wilson-Harfst said her office had seen a synthetic drug influence over the last several months, and its impact on social services customers. Particularly, she has noted its impact on parents and their ability to take care of their children.
Gressard said the circle of abuse with new synthetic drugs is the same as with more traditionally known drugs. People use them for the high, euphoria or desensitized feeling they produce. When they stop using, they feel the opposite effect, or what Gressard called the rebound effect, and then use the drug again to counter that effect.
Gressard first reviewed the generally better known drugs, both legal and illegal, and their effects. These included depressants, such as alcohol and barbiturates, and stimulants such as amphetamines, methamphetamines and cocaine. He also discussed opiates, such as heroin and codeine, hallucinogens and marijuana.
Ecstasy, also known as MDMA for its key ingredients, was the prototype for a new line of so called “designer” or synthetic drugs, Gressard said. It involved the rearranging of chemical molecules to create a new drug which induced a feeling of increased energy combined with euphoria and a lack of anxiety. The drug associated with nightclubs and two-day dance parties known as raves.
Designer drugs have continued to evolve, Gressard said, leading to several drugs that have emerged just in the past five years. Many in Gressard’s audience were familiar with the first two emerging drugs he discussed, Spice, or K2, and bath salts.
Spice/K2, or synthetic marijuana, has a synthesized cannaboid as its active ingredient. Like bath salts, it is marketed as “not for human consumption” and is oftentimes sold as incense, ploys to help maintain its legality.
Gressard said Spice/K2 is generally smoked and has been used by about one in 10 high school students. He said the synthetic versions can have stronger effects than marijuana, including temporary psychotic reactions along with elevated blood pressure and anxiety. Some audience members said they can tell when their clients are spice users due to their “spice cough,” which they described as a high-pitched or croupy cough.
Bath salts are not really bathtub salts, Gressard said, and may also be labeled as plant food or insect repellant. Most of these substances come in powdered form and have a synthetic cathinone as their active ingredient. They have names like Bliss, Cloud Nine and Vanilla Sky.
These substances can be snorted, swallowed, smoked or injected. Effects include agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, high blood pressure and increased pulse rate, chest pain and increased risk of suicide. Gressard said poison control centers received over 6,000 bath salts related calls in 2011.
A Virginia law that went into effect this year targeted the active ingredients in synthetic cannaboids and bath salts, making any substance containing them or their derivatives illegal, regardless of package labeling. Local law enforcement officials have said the law, known as the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, may be effective in knocking some synthetic drugs off the market, but fear that clever chemists seeking continued profit will simply find new formulas in order to skirt the law.
Gressard also talked about salvia, a plant in the mint family that is legal in some states. It is most frequently smoked, but is sometimes chewed, and can produce hallucinations and a trance-like state.
A stronger hallucinogenic is a new synthetic drug called 2C-1 or Smiles that is described as a combination of LSD and Ecstasy. Its chemical makeup makes it illegal under the 2012 law targeting synthetic drugs.
The last drug Gressard discussed was GHB, which is used legitimately to treat insomnia and some forms of depression. He said the drug is relatively easy to manufacture and is commonly taken as a powder. It is popular as a club drug and may be used in date-rape scenarios. Like Ecstasy, its effects include euphoria, reduced inhibitions and empathy, and it is especially dangerous when combined with alcohol.
Mathews Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Bowen said one of the most concerning things about synthetic drugs is that they are manufactured in uncontrolled, unregulated environments, so there is no way to know what they contain along with the targeted active ingredient. Gressard agreed, saying, “It’s crazy to be messing with this stuff, just crazy.”
In closing, Gressard said the development of new varieties of synthetic drugs will undoubtedly continue. “We need to stay aware of the constantly changing landscape of drug development and drug use. Each has its own dangers and problems. Knowledge of the drugs is our best defense in dealing with the problem.”
reprinted from December 27, 2012 with permission from Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal