New drugs fuel wave of violence and death

From the StarTribune:

Designer drugs can be purchased easily online, leading users to believe they are safer than street drugs. But the chemicals can be unpredictable - and disastrous.

Past midnight, Kat Green arrived home from her police shift exhausted. Then her smartphone started ringing with urgent messages. Mass drug overdose. Party at a ranch house outside of town. On the way, more information trickled in: At least a half-dozen young adults sick, some near death.

Packaged and sold as innocuous products such as "herbal incense" and "bath salts," the drugs are touted by users as legal alternatives to marijuana, cocaine and other controlled substances that can bring stiff penalties and jail time in even small amounts.

Altogether, poison control centers have received more than 6,600 calls about designer synthetics this year, 10 times more than the first half of 2010. Synthetic drugs have been linked or suspected in more than 20 deaths nationally in the past year, while emergency rooms are treating more patients who have overdosed on sometimes tiny amounts of designer synthetics.

Merchants are introducing new products online, too. When the DEA temporarily banned five chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana early this year, retailers started promoting new mixtures they claimed were not covered by any bans.

The market is too lucrative to disappear. Herbal incense, sometimes called synthetic marijuana, accounted for nearly $5 billion in sales last year, according to an estimate from the Retail Compliance Association, a national retailers group that formed to challenge herbal incense bans.

The new drugs lack regulatory oversight and quality control. Users often rely on each others' Internet postings to find out how much they should take and what they could experience.

Many of the substances are so new to the market that they have little track record. What may give one user a euphoric high could permanently injure someone else. Erratic labeling means buyers sometimes wind up with vastly different chemicals than the ones they ordered.

More than a week before the deadly party, college student Cody Weddle visited a little-known chemical website and placed an order, court documents allege. He and others had researched 2C-E, an investigator said. Internet posts describe it as a sensory-enhancing psychedelic similar to LSD. A user nicknamed "Easy Rider" told Web readers about her "joyful night" on 2C-E, which made her feel "very warm and happy" and "more in control of myself than the drunk people around me."

Around midnight, less than an hour after swallowing the drugged water, some at the party started wondering what was wrong with their batch. Instead of feeling great, many felt nauseated.

Stacy Jewell lay sick in a bedroom. Others threw up on the lawn and in the living room. Everyone dripped with sweat.

At age 22, Stacy Jewell -- who in recent years had tried to talk others out of doing drugs -- died after a drug overdose.

After a week of waiting, Oklahoma law dictated Andrew Akerman's life support be turned off.

Preliminary tests later revealed that the powder delivered to rural Oklahoma wasn't 2C-E at all, but a drug called Bromo-DragonFLY -- a chemical that some websites warn is even more dangerous.

The man accused of placing the Internet order sits in jail charged with murder -- a charge that has drawn mixed feelings in town. Some residents think it is too harsh, that Weddle didn't intend to hurt anyone and those at the party freely chose to take the drug. Authorities continue to investigate others who were at the party.