"Sass:" Doctor, detective confront growing synthetic drug problem

By STEPHANIE KOHL - editorial@lakecountysuburbanlife.com

LAKE COUNTY – The recent death of a 21-year-old Spring Grove woman, believed to have ingested a synthetic drug known as “sass,” has led some to wonder, what exactly is “sass?”

Sass is a synthetic drug, made from the sassafras plant, which can be a precursor to MDMA or Ecstacy.

Eric Kaechele, a detective with the special investigations unit of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, said the core reason the drug is so dangerous is, it is in line with MDMA. The “party drug” is common among teenagers and those in their early 20s and on the rave scene. The first encounter the unit had with the drug was in August 2014 and it’s become a growing problem since, he said.

“Right now, it has come up enough it’s on our radar, but it’s not nearly as prevalent as heroin,” Kaechele said.

According to Kaechele, sass can be problematic because those taking it are expecting it to act fast, like MDMA or Ecstasy. However, he said, with sass, it takes longer for the user to feel the effects. Sometimes, that causes the user to take more of the drug, making it even more dangerous, he said.

“Just because of the different properties of the drug, it is easier to overdose on it,” Kaechele said.

Dr. Adam Rubinstein, president of the medical staff at Advocate Condell Medical Center and the medical director (medicine co-lead) of the Behavioral Health Service Line for Advocate Health Care, said in addition to the term “sass,” he has also heard the drug referred to as “Sally” and “Adam.”

Rubinstein said when the drug is taken, it decreases anxiety and increases trust, openness and self-acceptance. So, when users take it while at a rave party, it basically helps them to be less-inhibited, he said.

Part of the danger is that when these drugs are used in a rave party environment, the user will become extremely hot, will be dehydrated from dancing and moving around, and oftentimes is using other drugs and/or drinking alcohol, Rubinstein added.

"The user can become agitated, will begin sweating profusely and both their heart rate and blood pressure will rise," he said, explaining this can lead to seizures and death.

“The issue here is the kids don’t perceive these drugs to be dangerous,” Rubinstein said. "This is a very, very serious toxic synthetic compound that can kill you.”

Rubinstein said the drug is dangerous to use "even once" and "long-term use of the drug is also extremely harmful."

"It messes with the serotonin levels in the user’s body," Rubinstein said. "Long-term or regular use can result in such a detriment to the serotonin balance of an individual, that an individual can develop long-term or chronic depression."

Kaechele said because sass is a precursor to MDMA or Ecstasy, it falls under the methamphetamine control and community protection act. If caught with it, the minimum charge is a Class 4 felony, which comes with at least one year in prison, he said.

Both Kaechele and Rubinstein said it is important to stress that sass is a highly dangerous drug and people need to understand that.