With bans in place, synthetic drugs an improving but still deadly problem

By Adam D. Young

A-J MEDIA LOCAL NEWS EDITOR

 

Lubbock’s synthetic drug problem is getting better.

That is if you consider better to mean having only one or two emergency room cases per 12-hour shift that put medical staff in a scramble to figure out why their patients are having seizures, hallucinations or other symptoms from an unknown substance.

Those visits had averaged between three and five per shift just a year ago, said University Medical Center spokesman Eric Finley.

He credited increased public awareness for the drop in emergency room visits for such substances in 2014.

Last year was the first full year since Lubbock’s City Council approved a ban on the sale of synthetic drugs in the city, prompting Lubbock County’s district attorney to conduct several high-profile raids on head shops.

But synthetic drugs still pose a health threat to Lubbockites, Finley said as he joined Councilwoman Karen Gibson and anti-synthetic drug advocates during a news conference last week at City Hall calling for more action to be taken against the drugs.

“We still have those people who are addicted to it,” Finley said at the news conference. “It’s not just a dangerous drug, it’s a deadly drug.”

Gibson and members of Lubbock’s Warriors Against Synthetic Pot advocacy group used the conference to launch an anti-drug effort ahead of the upcoming Texas legislative session that begins Jan. 13.

They’re asking people to help support proposed measures during the 84th Texas Legislative Session by sharing personal stories of how their friends or loved ones have been impacted by synthetic drugs.

For his part, Finley brought a display case of synthetic drugs confiscated from patients by medical staff at UMC.

It was a black box filled with dozens of colorfully labeled packages.

They had non-revealing names like Purple Diesel, Cheap Trip and 24K Monkey, giving medical staff few leads as to how to treat their patients.

“One of the reasons these drugs are dangerous is because we really don’t have any way of knowing what’s in them,” Finley said.

Several of the packages were marked “dead.”

“These are packages that were actually taken off a dead person,” Finley said.

 

Letter campaign

The organization will give the letters to state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, to take to the legislative session.

“We’re trying to get the community’s support,” said Jeannine Kelley, co-founder of the Lubbock-based anti-synthetic drug group. “But this is an entire state issue and we need to get our state leaders on board.”

Kelley praised city and state leaders for past efforts to limit the availability of synthetic drugs.

Despite state and city laws banning certain chemicals, she said, others with similar effects remain on some store shelves.

“This drug is death,” she said. “It offers you death in a package.”

Kelley said she’s hopeful the letter-writing campaign will help persuade state leaders to take action.

The anecdotes, she said, will remain anonymous and can be sent to her organization via mail:

WASP

P.O. Box 65717

Lubbock, TX 79464-5717

“We just need you to write it on a piece of paper,” she said. “Write it on toilet paper — I don’t care how we get it.”

Moving forward 
on drug bans

Last month, Perry announced he had pre-filed SB 199 to prohibit the sale and use of synthetic drugs in the state ahead of the legislative session beginning next month.

Perry said the Legislature has passed similar bans in previous sessions, but manufacturers have repeatedly changed the chemical makeup of their drugs to skirt the law.

“In shops across the state, dangerous synthetic drugs are being sold to our youth, over the counter without repercussions,” Perry said in the statement. “These drugs are unregulated and more dangerous than the illegal counterparts they seek to imitate.”

Due to the complex chemical combinations, these substances have been known to produce side effects including hallucination, severe agitation, elevated heart rate and/or blood pressure, chest pains, blackouts, tremors, seizures, cardiac infarction, and in some cases death, according to Perry’s statement.

During Tuesday’s news conference, Gibson praised Perry’s efforts and said his proposal was a good start.

More needs to be done on a state level — including increasing penalties and expanding current laws — to help remove synthetic drugs on a local level, she said.

She also called for better labeling on packages.

Lubbock’s City Council last year passed an ordinance banning the sale of certain synthetic drugs, sometimes referred to as synthetic marijuana, in stores in the city limits.

City leaders updated that ordinance earlier this year, expanding the list of banned substances.

Perry’s SB 199 would add additional known chemicals to the Texas Controlled Substance Act and include a controlled substance analog provision that will act as a “catch-all” for drugs with substantially similar chemical composition or intended to produce substantially similar effects.

“There are 53 merchants in Lubbock County alone that are known to have sold these substances,” Perry added. “I look forward to working with local law enforcement to ensure this commonsense legislation becomes law and these dangerous substances stay off of our streets and out of our schools.”

adam.young@lubbockonline.com

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