A mother's message: Synthetic drugs designed to pass high school drug tests

Many parents reading news articles about teenagers experimenting with synthetic drugs may say to themselves, “Couldn’t happen to my kid.” One Indiana mother, Jeanine Motsay, has a message for parents across the nation: “It may not be your kid but it’s what your kid doesn’t know that’s going to make the difference.”

Jeanine lost her 16-year-old son, Sam, to a synthetic drug called NBOMe, or synthetic LSD, on Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014. Sam’s death motivated Motsay to provide the public, the media, educators and even law enforcement to be aware of what is residing quite prolifically in our midst.

Samswatch.org is a website created by Motsay and is devoted to education about synthetic drugs. The website has drawn nationwide attention and has been recognized by organizations such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse and theNational Institutes of Health. SamsWatch.org aims to alert communities state by state on incidents involving these drugs. 

One of the biggest problems with synthetic drugs is that when they hit the market they are essentially legal, that is, they are unknown to drug agencies and police so they haven’t been classified at all. In the case of Sam, NBOMe became illegal in November 2013, but that didn’t mean information was readily available about it.

Remembering Sam Motsay

Sophomore Sam Motsay had a 4.0 grade point average and already knew what he wanted to study in college. He played tenor saxophone and was a forward on the Center Grove, Indianapolis, junior varsity basketball team. He and his two best friends, also on the team, decided they would try NBOMe together on the Saturday night. On the Sunday morning Sam didn’t wake up.  

Motsay believes Sam’s motivation was to do this particular drug was to avoid detection; it moves quickly through the body and is hard to detect in a high school drug test.

According to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2014, “Current research reinforces previous conclusions that student drug testing is a relatively ineffective drug policy.” Motsay believes that “When you have a drug policy in place you must have all the bells and whistles that go with it, not just the policy.” In the case of Sam’s school in Indiana, she says “They are only testing 6 to 8 percent of the population.”

“But it came out of the blue,” Motsay says, “Sam was a health conscious kid who looked the other way when it came to teenage smokers and drinkers.” What propelled him out of the blue seems unclear: peer group pressure, a teenagers yearning for experimentation, the need to be “cool”?

The police were able to go through Sam’s phone to find out where Sam had bought the drugs from. Another student at his school had passed on the phone number of a connection to the drug dealer. The drug passed through two sets of adult hands before it got to Sam.

On the Tuesday after his death, 65 DEA, narcotics agents and police officers stormed the house of Zachary Catron, 24, on the south side of Indianapolis. Inside Catron’s home they found NBOMe, heroin, ecstasy, gold bullion bars, guns and ammunition. He had recently been sentenced to 20 years for dealing cocaine and methamphetamine but it was reduced to 18 years suspended and he was put on an ankle monitoring bracelet. One of the adults who facilitated the drug deal turned himself in when he heard about what happened to Sam Motsay. The other eventually turned himself in as well.