25I Synthetic Drug Kills 17-Year-Old, Profiled on Dateline NBC
First of all, I’d like to admit that I love investigative reporting shows such as Dateline NBC, 48 Hours, and pretty much anything you’ll find on the ID channel. When I saw the premise for the episode One Small Dose, I knew it was something I had to watch and share my thoughts on.
In January, 2014, 17-year-old Tara Fitzgerald was an honors high school student. She had never been in any sort of trouble, and by all accounts, neither had her friends. They refer to her as an “old soul”.
But Tara had a experimental side. She was heavy into music from the 1960s and 1970s, and curious about drugs. One of her friends got some LSD for the two of them to try, unbeknownst to her parents. In fact, they took the drug while Tara’s parents were sleeping right upstairs.
They chronicled the night’s events on video and cell phone images, including Tara with a paper blotter-style drug placed on her tongue. As the night progressed, you could see a change in Tara.
And indeed, a lot happened during the time between when Tara and her friend fell asleep, and Tara ended in up in the emergency room the next day. Medical staff tried for an hour to save her, but could not.
No one, however, including physicians and parents, could believe that Tara overdosed on LSD. People harm themselves on LSD, and may have horrible experiences – but death” That just doesn’t happen.
At that point, law enforcement launched an investigation, which lead to a long trail of involvement. Tara’s friend who gave her the drug, obtained it from another friend. He obtained it from another boy in the high school. He obtained it from yet another girl. And finally, she got it from a guy who dated someone at the high school. This boy ultimately lied about the drug, knowing that people wouldn’t take it if it wasn’t really LSD. Ouch.
And still, the exchanging of hands continued. In fact, these drugs can often be purchased in head shops and even online.
It is ultimately determined that the drug wasn’t LSD at all, which is what authorities had suspected. It was a synthetic drug called 25I, or N-bomb, which had only been made illegal a month or so before Tara’s overdose. It’s a stronger drug than LSD, and taking doses may be comparable to playing Russian roulette.
25I, full name 25I-NBOMe, has similar effects to LSD, but it it not chemically similar. Like most synthetic drugs, 25I is unregulated, unpredictable, and potentially fatal in excess. When placed on an LSD-style blotter, it becomes difficult to gauge how much of the drug the potential user is actually getting. And this explains why Tara died while her friend walked away relatively unscathed.
Prior to April 2015, 25I has likely been responsible for at least 7 overdose fatalities in the U.S. Before Tara, two teens died in Grand Forks, ND and East Grand Foks, MN (June 2012). Then in October 2012, a 21-year-old man from Little Rock died at a music festival after ingesting a drop of the drug intranasally.
In January, 2013, an 18-year-old in Scottsdale, AZ died after taking a drug she thought was LSD. After Tara’s death, there was a 15-year-old in Washington who overdosed in September, 2014.
Dangerous synthetic drugs like 25I are too often not taken seriously. Heroin and prescription drugs fatalities, for example, far outnumber deaths by synthetic drugs. And since some of them contain chemicals which are not even yet illegal, they are often low on the DEA’s list of concerns.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
Related: PBS Frontline Airs “Chasing Heroin”