New York, Nation Continues to Face Synthetic Drugs Epidemic
We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the heroin and prescription painkiller epidemic that is wreaking havoc on communities nationwide. However, it’s not only drug crisis plaguing the U.S. There’s also been a growing demand for synthetic drugs, such as synthetic marijuana (K2 or “Spice), bath salts (cathinones), and club drugs such as ecstasy.
For example, in 2015, New York City emergency rooms reported thousands of visits due to negative reactions to synthetic marijuana. Poison control centers were inundated, as well.
However, a large-scale law enforcement and public health effort resulted in a decrease of these cases, thanks to new legislation, raids on distribution sites, and the general crackdown on drug manufacturers and supplies.
Unfortunately, where there is demand, there are always suppliers ready to fill the gap. The next generation of potent synthetic drugs are already on the horizon. New production is gaining speed, with manufacturers and suppliers eager to replace the drugs of yesteryear.
According to the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, an abundance of psychoactive substances are en route to consumers in the U.S. and overseas. Researchers have discovered more than 400 compounds, 60% of which are newly synthesized.
These drugs, often labeled “not for human consumption” are marketed as herbal highs, incense, and plant food. They are commonly sold on the Internet, in head shops, from dealers, and truck stops. These substances may fall into a spectrum of classifications, but the two main categories are marijuana and stimulant copycats.
Synthetic Marijuana or Cannibinoids
Over 2/3 of these psychoactive substances are considered to be mimics of marijuana. Common names include K2 and Spice, and have been in production for about a decade. Chemicals are cooked by labs, sprayed onto herbs, then dried and packaged for purchase.
These drugs are especially popular in Russia and China, partially due to the fact that they are relatively inexpensive. Thus, people of low economic status, such as the mentally ill and teenagers are particular susceptible to abuse. However, they are much more potent than marijuana, have a longer duration of effects, and contain unknown chemicals and impurities which may have unpredictable effects.
Symptoms of these synthetic drugs include high blood pressure, increased heart rate, nausea and vomiting, agitation and aggressiveness, anxiety and panic, seizures, and psychosis. They may also interact with medications currently taken by users, including both prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
Synthetic Stimulants (Cathinones)
These drug formulations are stimulants which mimic the effects of amphetamines, such as meth. Early incarnations were marketed as alternatives to prescription stimulants such as Adderall and Ritaliln. Bath salts are in this category, as are ecstasy and current knock-offs of ecstasy, with street names such as Fire Ball and Sextasy.
Side effects may include elevated blood pressure and heart rate, profuse sweating, sleeping disturbances, muscle spasms, dizziness, bruxism, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, and agitation.
What is Being Done?
The U.S. and many other countries have engaged in legal actions in attempt to curb the production and distribution of these drugs. However, these labs can move quickly from location to location, and make minor changes in chemical composition in order to stay one step ahead of the law.
In attempt to decrease demand, public service announcements and school programs have been employed. That is, anti-drug campaigns have been used to educate youth and those most vulnerable to these types of drugs. However, peer influence is often of greater importance that adult interference, so it’s a process that remains slow and ongoing.
And there is evidence that every $1 worth of comprehensive treatment may save $10 in societal costs.
Moreover, the war on drugs is failing, costing the taxpayers a staggering amount money, and is mostly putting people in prison. In order to continue battling the drug epidemic, we need more widespread approaches which focus on demand (education, prevention, and treatment) versus supply (drug raids, arrests, etc.)
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
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