UN sounds alarm on widespread designer drug use

From Yahoo! News:

The U.N. drug control agency on Wednesday sounded the alarm on the spread of designer drugs, which are sold openly and produce legal but sometimes deadly highs, while reporting that global drug use generally remains stable.

Such substances "can be far more dangerous than traditional drugs," the agency said in a statement accompanying its annual report. "Street names, such as 'spice,' 'meow-meow' and 'bath salts' mislead young people into believing that they are indulging in low-risk fun."

A six-page summary of the report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime warned that "the international drug control system is foundering, for the first time, under the speed and creativity" of their proliferation.

It said countries worldwide reported 251 such substances by mid-2012, compared with 166 at the end of 2009. The problem, said the report, is "hydra-headed" in that as fast as governments ban the drugs, manufacturers produce new variants.

Nearly 5 percent of European Union residents aged between 15 and 24 have already experimented with such drugs, said the report.

In the United States, 158 kinds of synthetic drugs were circulating during 2012, more than twice as many as in the EU, and use was growing in East and Southeast Asia, including China, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

DEA Launches 'Largest Ever' Synthetic Drug Bust

From U.S. News & World Report:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced on Wednesday that it has launched its "largest ever" sweep against synthetic drugs, issuing hundreds of search and arrest warrants across the globe.

Law enforcement officials executed more than 150 arrest warrants and nearly 375 search warrants in 35 states, 49 cities and five countries on Wednesday, according to a DEA statement. More than 225 people have been arrested in the United States, Australia, Canada, Barbados and Panama as a result of the crackdown, BBC News reported.

"This is a significant seizure of synthetic drugs and is a terrific result for our respective law enforcement agencies," said Graham Fletcher, Australia's acting ambassador to the United States, in the DEA statement. "Australia remains committed to sharing intelligence with its U.S. partners to combat transnational crime across international borders. This is a win for our collective communities."

The operations targeted trafficking organizations focusing on designer synthetic drugs, that have operated "without regard for the law or public safety."

Since the project began last December, more than 75 arrests have been made and nearly $15 million in cash an assets have been seized, according to DEA officials. More than 550 kilograms, about 1,200 pounds, of drugs have been seized in the last three days.

The year in synthetic drugs

From Salon.com:

This is the year of the knockoff. A witch’s brew of new synthetic drugs, most of them stimulants, peddled as either bath salts or “spice” concoctions, has offered users new forms of Russian Roulette, and has irrevocably changed the face of international drug dealing. 2012 was also the year hysteria took over. Myths began to accumulate, and everywhere you looked, somebody was supposedly doing something psychotic due to the new synthetics.

By 2012, amphetamine-type stimulants, including synthetic bath salt derivatives, had become more popular worldwide than either cocaine or heroin, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This international eclipsing of the plant-based “hard drugs” of the past represents a major paradigm shift in the landscape of the illegal drug trade. The stunning market growth of synthetic stimulants is not hard to understand. Bath salt drug products soared in popularity throughout 2012 due largely to the belief among users that the drugs were: 1) quasi-legal, 2) non-addictive, 3) relatively safe, and 4) invisible to drug tests.

By the end of the year, it had become clear that none of these things was still true.

To begin with, bath salts—just like Spice and other cannabis spinoffs—are no longer legal. And many of the drugs found in bath salts appear to be addictive. Some carry known health hazards. And, although it was the desire to finesse drug testing that gave a major push to this new class of recreational chemicals, major bath salt ingredients can now be detected in routine urinalysis. Researchers have teased out the main culprits in both categories of synthetics—for synthetic marijuana, it’s the JWH family of research chemicals. For stimulants, it’s the cathinones, compounds like mephedrone and MDPV, members of a family of psychoactive alkaloids that includes khat, the chewable form of speed popular in East Africa.

There are new drug tests out there that can detect many of the major ingredients in both bath salts and spice-style cannabis products. And that marks a major change that law enforcement hopes will cripple growth in this fast-moving industry.

“Increasingly, and especially in the U.S. military, testing firms are including these compounds in their methodology,” says Dr. Kroll. More drug test kit manufacturers are sure to ramp up production in the near future, but it is a costly effort. “Folks probably aren’t aware of how hard it is to develop methods to detect all of these compounds,” adds Kroll.

Posted: 12/27/2012 8:54:00 AM

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Injected bath salts linked to dangerous bacterial infections in Maine

From The Bangor Daily News:

Maine health officials are investigating a cluster of serious bacterial illnesses among users of synthetic bath salts.

Four patients with a history of injecting the drug were sickened by the Group A streptococcal bacterium over the last several weeks, according to a health alert issued by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The common germ is responsible for strep throat and skin problems in its milder form but can also lead to life-threatening infections including the much-feared flesh-eating bacteria.

Two of the cases resulted in streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, which causes a rapid drop in blood pressure and can lead to organ failure. All of the patients were hospitalized, one required treatment in intensive care, and one developed necrotizing fasciitis, a condition that’s known as flesh-eating bacteria in its rare and most dangerous form.

The bacteria likely cropped up among bath salts users not through the sharing of needles but because injecting drugs gives it a way to enter the body, Sears said. For that reason, health officials are also concerned that the infection could strike users who inject drugs of any kind, he said.

Maine CDC has advised physicians and other health providers to be on the lookout for the infections among intravenous drug users, but the public should also be aware, Sears said.

Posted: 12/12/2012 11:53:00 AM

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Ohio AG says new synthetic drugs entering market

From the Dayton Daily News:

Ohio lawmakers outlawed bath salts and other dangerous synthetic drugs last year, but clever chemists are finding ways to circumvent the law by creating new compounds, said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine at a press conference on Wednesday.

DeWine is urging lawmakers to pass Ohio Substitute House Bill 334, because he said it contains a provision that could stop designer-drug makers from easily skirting the law. DeWine said authorities are currently unable to prosecute some drug cases, because the substances contain chemical compounds that are not subject to the ban.

Ohio House Bill 64, which became law in October 2011, banned the sale, manufacturing, distribution and possession of bath salts and other synthetic drugs. Lawmakers said the legislation was written in such a way as to prevent synthetic-drug manufacturers from simply “tweaking” their products to get around the ban.

But officials said chemists continue to produce substances that are not prohibited under current law. DeWine said H.B. 334 will change the law to cover the newer chemicals, which are sold at some corner stores, small shops and online.

DeWine also vowed to crack down on the sale, use and distribution of these drugs through civil and criminal measures. He said businesses that sell these drugs may face closure or lawsuits. He said distributors and manufacturers will be prosecuted. He also said law officers will receive training on how to investigate and prosecute these cases.

Posted: 11/15/2012 9:30:00 AM

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'Smiles': New street drug tied to 'Sons of Anarchy' death

From NBC News:

Johnny Lewis, an actor in the popular “Sons of Anarchy” motorcycle-gang cable drama, died early Wednesday in Los Angeles, suspected of killing his 81-year-old former landlord, Catherine Davis, and possibly himself.

Police think the 28-year-old rising star, who played Kip 'Half-sack' Epps on the FX show, may have been under the influence of a drug few have heard of, a substance known informally as “Smiles.”

It’s part of a new wave of synthetic drugs finding their way onto America’s streets and into its clubs. With the chemical name 2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodophenethylamine, it is known by drug agents and chemists as 2C-I, part of a closely-related family of “2C” drugs.

Like all the 2C drugs, it’s a psychoactive, hallucinogenic chemical that alter the brain’s balance of dopamine and serotonin. Smiles is particularly powerful, binding to serotonin receptors in the brain at 20 times the rate of another drug used in schizophrenia research, according to an experiment performed by Purdue University chemists.

The effects of 2C-I, like those of LSD, can last up to eight hours. But because the effects can take time to appear, users may think they haven’t taken enough to get the desired high, and so take more, risking overdose.

The drug can be taken as small tablets, on pieces of blotter paper like LSD, or in powder form, often mixed with something else, like chocolate.

Bath Salts: The Drug That Never Lets Go

From PBS News:

Dickie Sanders was not naturally prone to depression. The 21-year-old BMX rider was known for being sweet spirited and warm -- a hugger not a hand-shaker. The kind of guy who called on holidays. Who helped his father on the family farm. Who spent countless hours perfecting complicated tricks on his bike.

Yet on Nov. 12, 2010, Sanders was found dead on the floor of his childhood bedroom. He had shot himself in the head with a .22 caliber youth rifle.

An autopsy revealed a powerful stimulant in his system: methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV (a common ingredient in a street drug known as "bath salts").

“Bath salts” are nothing like the epsom salts often added to bathwater; it's just the most common code name given to a specific type of synthetic drugs made in underground labs and marketed as household items. The drugs have been camouflaged as plant food, stain remover, toilet bowl cleaner and hookah cleaner. They've been sold online and in "head shops," businesses that sell drug paraphernalia. The boxes usually contain a foil wrap or plastic bag of powder, though sometimes they take the form of pills or capsules. The color of the powder ranges from white to yellow to brown, the price from $30 to $50. And nearly every box has a label that says “not for human consumption.”

When bath salts first appeared in 2010, the products were crudely packaged -- a label from an ink-jet printer slapped onto a plastic container, Ryan said. But over time, they began to look increasingly more professional and often specifically tailored to the place. Products in Louisiana donned names like Hurricane Charlie, NOLA Diamond, Bayou Ivory Flower. Bath salts had also surfaced in Illinois, Kentucky and Florida, but Louisiana was hit especially hard.

The product that Sanders snorted was called Cloud 9. At the time of his death, he was in a drug program for marijuana abuse, actively attending group meetings and undergoing frequent drug tests. He was told that the drug was legal, a great high and wouldn't show up on a drug test.

Posted: 9/28/2012 12:56:00 PM

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Education Needed on Dangers, Prevalence of New Drugs

by Dr. Barry Logan

The news media has documented a growing trend in gruesome and violent “zombie-like” attacks in recent weeks. In Miami, a man was shot and killed by police while eating the face of another man. In Louisiana, a man bit off a chunk of his neighbor’s cheek. A woman in New York attacked her own three-year old child and then attempted to sink her teeth into a police officer. In Texas, a man tried to eat his family’s dog while the animal was still alive.

Shortly after the Miami attack, Pennsylvania Congressman Pat Meehan, a former U.S. Attorney, convened a meeting of local law enforcement, forensic scientists, drug experts, and school officials in Upper Merion, Pa. The goal of the meeting was to discuss the challenges posed by designer drugs such as “bath salts” and synthetic marijuana, also commonly referred to as “fake pot.” Law enforcement officials noted that the biting and the animalistic behavior that occurred in Miami and other recent incidents is a common behavior exhibited by individuals high on bath salts.

The group discussed how these drugs are readily available and freely marketed online as household items like incense, plant food and bath salts. In some cases, they are sold in local neighborhoods at corner markets and gas stations. And although they typically have the disclaimer “not for human consumption” they are produced with the specific intention of being smoked or injected by people looking for a quick high.

A major concern is that the ease with which these drugs can be purchased on the internet has sparked a surge in use among teenagers. A recent study commissioned by the National Institute for Drug Abuse revealed that one in every nine high school seniors (11.4 percent) reported using synthetic marijuana in the prior 12 months. Many teens believe the products are safe, “legal” highs that will not be detected in a routine drug test, and will not arouse parental suspicion. Others appear to believe they are safer alternatives to marijuana and amphetamines such as cocaine, which they are designed to mimic. In reality, they appear to be far more dangerous.

Bath salts are known to cause agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, chest pain, suicidal tendencies, and the animalistic behavior shown in recent violent attacks. Synthetic marijuana poses its own risks because of the way it alters the brain’s chemistry and has been linked to numerous deaths. Last June, police said a teenager jumped off the roof of a mall parking garage in Willow Grove after smoking fake pot.

Given their misleading marketing, heightened availability, and adaptive “legality,” it is not surprising that last year Poison Control Centers received over thirteen thousand human exposure calls regarding synthetic cannabinoids and bath salts. Last year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration took steps to ban the chemicals used to make these designer drugs. But many manufacturers responded by slightly altering the chemical makeup of the compounds, effectively skirting federal law. This led to a new round of increasingly volatile and dangerous drugs.

As Congressman Meehan and stakeholders discussed, addressing this growing problem requires a multi-pronged effort. From a legislative perspective, instead of reactively banning substances, lawmakers must proactively classify the new non-scheduled substances being constantly reformulated by manufacturers as analogs, making them illegal under federal law. Meehan said this must be accompanied by a focused effort to go after and take down the internet sites that peddle these dangerous drugs.

Similarly, we need a concerted education effort aimed not just at teenagers, but parents as well. They need to be informed about what these substances look like, how they are packaged and marketed, and the negative long and short-term effects of the substances which at best alter brain chemistry, and at worst induce violent behavior, and sometimes even death.

At the same time, we must work to expand our forensic testing capabilities to detect and identify the use of bath salts and synthetic marijuana. If we are able to detect the use of these drugs in blood and urine as easily as we can detect marijuana or cocaine, these synthetic drugs will cease to be an alternative for individuals who are seeking to evade detection in standard drug tests.

These synthetic drugs do not just pose a danger to abusers. They also endanger innocent bystanders, law enforcement, and anyone else an individual high on these substances may come in contact with. It is time to step up and tackle this problem head on.
______________________________________________________________________________
Dr. Barry Logan is Director of Forensic and Toxicological Services for NMS Labs, in Willow Grove, Pa. and is President-Elect of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). For more information on synthetic drugs, including a brochure for parents, visit www.nmslabs.com.

Posted: 8/3/2012 1:01:00 PM

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Fake Pot Is A Real Problem For Regulators

From NPR:

This week, President Obama signed a law banning synthetic marijuana and other synthetic drugs. Dozens of states and local governments have already tried to outlaw fake marijuana, which has been blamed for hundreds of emergency room visits and a handful of fatalities.

But the bans have proved largely ineffective, and there are fears that the federal law won't be any different.

There are no clinical studies about the health effects of synthetic marijuana. But anecdotally, health care providers report a long list of nasty side effects, from agitation and paranoia to intense hallucinations and psychosis.

Christine Stork, the clinical director of the Upstate New York Poison Control Center, says synthetic marijuana can be 20 times as potent as real marijuana. But it's hard to predict the strength of any particular brand or packet — in part because it's remarkably easy for anyone to make and package synthetic marijuana without any oversight or regulation.

In a video posted on YouTube, an unidentified man shows how it's done, using damiana, a Mexican shrub, as the base. All you need is some legal plant material and some chemical powders that can be easily ordered from overseas labs.

Most states have already moved to ban some synthetic cannabinoids — the chemical compounds that are the key ingredient in synthetic marijuana. But Burns says it's not that simple.

"You have people that are very good with chemistry, that continue to manipulate the molecular structure of these substances," he says. "So that they are creating analogues, or substances that are similar to those that have been banned."

The result is a big game of cat and mouse. The government outlaws a certain compound or family of compounds. But then producers tweak the chemical formula of their products to skirt the law.

Despite a slew of federal, state and local bans, sales in the synthetic drug industry seem to be growing — to roughly $5 billion a year, according to Rick Broider, president of the North American Herbal Incense Trade Association.

So far, law enforcement officials have been mostly stymied in their efforts to treat synthetic drugs makers like conventional drug dealers. This week, President Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012. It will mean tougher criminal penalties for selling some first-generation synthetic cannabinoids and many newer ones as well.

The new law should help, says Burns of the DEA.

Even experts question claim that Rudy Eugene was not on bath salts

From the Sun Sentinel:

Rudy Eugene was not on "bath salts" or synthetic marijuana when he chewed the face off a homeless man in May – if you believe the toxicology reports, that is.

Scientists and skeptical observers don't.

Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti is just one of the doubting Thomases who think the so-called "Causeway Cannibal" was on something not caught by either of the two labs that ran the toxicology tests.

"We are not testing for everything that may be out there," said Dr. Barry Logan, one of the nation's leading toxicologists.

There are hundreds of bath salt compounds out there, but toxicologists can only test for 40, said Logan, director of Forensic and Toxicological Services at NMS Labs in Pennsylvania.

"This is always a moving target," Logan said. "As soon as a test exists for something, there are new compounds waiting in the wings. We are always a step behind."

Even Logan was surprised when Eugene's drug scan found only traces of marijuana.

"His behavior was consistent with someone who was delusional and hallucinating, which would be consistent with bath salts," Logan said.

The report released last week by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner contained this disclaimer: "Within the limits of current technology by both laboratories, marijuana is the only drug identified in the body of Mr. Rudy Eugene."

Posted: 7/9/2012 11:38:00 AM

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