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Archive for Sunday, September 2, 2012

Kansas, nation can’t always keep up with constantly changing synthetic drugs

A sampling of synthetic drugs that have been purchased in Salina stores.

A sampling of synthetic drugs that have been purchased in Salina stores.

September 2, 2012

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About synthetic cannabinoids and bath salts

There are basically two broad types of substances involved in the recent growth of synthetic drugs. Health officials say there is no known antidote for someone suffering adverse reactions to the drugs. When patients are present in the emergency room, doctors treat the various symptoms, some of which can be life-threatening.

After the first wave of K2 calls to poison control centers in 2009, such calls have skyrocketed, according to numbers from the Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA. In 2010, poison control centers across the country fielded 3,200 calls in reference to synthetic drugs. In 2011, that number exceeded 13,000.

Synthetic cannabinoids

• The first versions of these drugs, with brand names such as “Spice” and “K2,” contained a synthetic derivative of cannabinoids, the mind-altering chemical in marijuana.

• The synthetic compound is sprayed on some form of plant material, like a potpourri, and then smoked as someone would smoke marijuana. The product comes in small packets and looks like marijuana.

• Public officials say these drugs started hitting retail shelves in fall 2009.

• Several chemicals used in the first wave of these drugs were outlawed in Kansas in 2010, and other classes of chemicals have subsequently been banned in the state and across the country.

• Manufacturers, however, have been altering the chemicals, trying to keep ahead of the law. Police say such chemicals are created overseas, then shipped to the United States and distributed from there.

• Health officials say newer versions of the drugs have cause increased heart rates, paranoia, addiction, kidney failure and bizarre behavior.

Bath salts

• First seen in stores in early 2010, the product is marketed as a bath salt, but is a powder that looks similar to cocaine. It’s sold in packets as well as vials.

• Many forms of this drug, which is typically snorted, are a synthetic version of MDMA, or the street drug ecstasy.

• The chemicals found in this drug were banned in Kansas in 2011, but have continued to crop up in the state as manufacturers have altered the chemical properties. Police say these drugs are also created overseas, then shipped to the U.S. for distribution.

• The drugs are said to cause many of the effects seen in synthetic cannabinoids. But several high-profile cases of those reportedly using bath salts have included cannibalistic behaviors. Several heart attack deaths have also been attributed to bath salt usage.

SALINA — In decades of long-distance drives through the Midwest, Gary Conti, a retired Oklahoma State University professor, has avoided his share of potential accidents.

Like any driver with enough miles under his or her belt, Conti has had to swerve or stop to avoid a collision with a deer or another animal darting across the road.

But it never had been a person.

Not until about 10:45 p.m. Dec. 21, 2010.

Conti and his wife, who were headed back to their Tulsa-area home, stopped for gasoline at a truck stop off Interstate 135 in Salina. He steered their Toyota Sienna back on the highway, heading south.

Then a crouching figure flickered in Conti’s peripheral vision at the edge of the dark highway.

“Out of nowhere, this young man popped up,” said Conti, who instinctively, and unsuccessfully, swerved away from the man.

“It was like a magnet. He just kept running at us,” Conti said. “It was like a horror movie.”

The man, 21-year-old Kansas University student and Solomon native Elijah Taylor, hit the front bumper, then the window. Conti and his wife weren’t injured, but Taylor died later at a Wichita hospital.

After finding packets of synthetic drugs in Taylor’s possession, it didn’t take police long to formulate a theory about why the young man lunged at a moving vehicle on an interstate highway.

“He was out-of-his-mind high,” said Salina police Lt. Jim Norton, a member of the I-135/I-70 Drug Task Force.

That was nearly two years ago.

And such bizarre and erratic behavior has been a frequent sight in Salina, particularly in emergency rooms and during encounters with police, as various forms of synthetic, and sometimes legal, drugs have taken hold in the city, Norton said.

Salina isn’t alone, and during the past three years an explosion of synthetic drugs has spread across the country, capturing the media spotlight and attention of law enforcement, health officials and lawmakers.

As local, state and federal law enforcement ramp up efforts to combat such substances, which they say are increasingly dangerous, they just might be embarking on the newest front in the drug war. The growing and unpredictable fight against synthetic drugs can call Kansas, and the northeast portion of the state, one of the first battlegrounds.

‘K2’

A packet of K2, a synthetic marijuana-like product that was sold in Lawrence in 2009.

A packet of K2, a synthetic marijuana-like product that was sold in Lawrence in 2009.

On any given day in fall 2009, lines at the Lawrence herbal shop, Sacred Journey, 1103 Mass., snaked out the store and around the block. Young and old waited to buy the increasingly popular herbal mixtures that went by brand names such as “K2” or “Spice.” While the substances were marketed as herbal incense, few people were fooled; the product was a well-known and then-legal alternative to marijuana, containing synthetic versions of cannabinoids, or the mind-altering substances found in marijuana.

The product, which looks similar to actual marijuana, was cheaper and, for many, offered another key benefit: Use wouldn’t show up on employment or probation drug tests.

But little was known about the effects of the substances, or even what the substances contained. That’s what initially concerned Johnson County law enforcement, who saw a dramatic spike in use around the Kansas City-metro area. And it was all coming from Sacred Journey in Lawrence, said Jeremy Morris, a forensic scientist with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.

“We hadn’t seen it at all, and really there hadn’t been any discussions about it being here stateside,” said Morris, who was perhaps one of the first scientists to test the drugs found in stores.

The use of K2 became a big enough concern that Johnson County officials asked for help from state lawmakers, including Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood.

“We were seeing some really weird stuff,” said Colloton, chair of the Kansas House’s Corrections and Juvenile Justice committee. At a 2010 hearing about possible legislation to ban the substances in the synthetic drugs, several members of Taylor’s family testified.

“It was painful, tragic testimony,” said Colloton, as the family detailed the unsuccessful fight to keep Taylor off the synthetic drugs. “It was powerful.”

The Kansas Legislature passed a bill making Kansas the first state to ban several chemicals found in the synthetic drugs. That law went into effect July 1, 2010.

A few months before, in February 2010, local and federal law enforcement searched Sacred Journey, seizing K2 and other substances. They also arrested Sacred Journey’s K2 distributor, 29-year-old Lawrence businessman Jonathan Sloan. Sloan operated, and continues to run, Bouncing Bear Botanicals, a speciality plant and herb business based in Oskaloosa, that distributes products nationwide.

Jonathan Sloan.

Jonathan Sloan.

The Bouncing Bear warehouse was also searched. Sloan was charged in Jefferson County with multiple counts of possessing and distributing illegal drugs, but the charges against Sloan were later dropped. He was charged again in 2011, but those charges were also dropped.

Representatives from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which spearheaded the searches, have never explained the raid at Sacred Journey and declined comment for this article. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas said the office was involved in obtaining the search and arrest warrants but declined further comment. Sloan has never been charged in federal court.

It’s not clear whether Sloan, who also declined comment for this article, continued to sell synthetic drugs through his business. But after the search, such products were never again seen on the shelves of Sacred Journey, according to law enforcement. Lawrence police say synthetic drugs have not been a big issue locally since the 2010 raid.

Other manufacturers and distributors of the synthetic drugs in Kansas, however, were more aggressive in keeping the products available to users.

‘Public enemy No. 1’

One of a variety of  stores that synthetic drugs have been purchased in Salina.

One of a variety of stores that synthetic drugs have been purchased in Salina.

Following Taylor’s death in 2010, Norton, the Salina police officer, said the “epidemic” of synthetic drug use reached a breaking point in his community.

“I have never, in my 25-year career, seen a drug that has put more people in the hospital like synthetic cannabinoids,” he said.

Emergency room doctors at Salina Regional Hospital began telling him that overdoses of the synthetic drugs overtook methamphetamine as the most frequent drug cases at the hospital.

Kier Swisher, co-director of the hospital’s emergency room, said there were times in the last couple of years when the emergency room would see up to a person a day who had overdosed on synthetic drugs. Some were treated and released; others spent days in the hospital as doctors treated a whole host of medical problems.

But the key challenge for Norton and other law officers was knowing whether the drugs they encountered were even illegal, as crafty drug makers stayed one step ahead of the curve, altering the chemicals in such drugs, skirting the new Kansas law.

“What started out as two chemicals quickly evolved into 30 chemicals,” said Morris, the scientist.

Norton and his drug task force had been keeping a close eye on the problem, but Taylor’s death pushed the issue to “public enemy No. 1,” Norton said.

According to Norton, Taylor’s friends who were with him the day he ran onto the highway said Taylor smoked synthetic drugs heavily all day. He’d been riding with some friends around Salina, but became so violent and out of control that friends forced him from their vehicle.

Driving around the center of town recently, Norton pulled up to a nondescript brick building near downtown Salina, and detailed how this building was one once the hub of a million-dollar drug manufacturing operation. And it was also most likely where the drugs Taylor smoked before his death were packaged.

Overseas shipments of the newest, legal synthetic compounds would arrive at the building, and once there, it’d be mixed, packaged and labeled with names such as “Supernova“ and “Revelation.”

While Sloan controlled the synthetic drug operation in Lawrence, the Salina operation was run by a 42-year-old Salina entrepreneur named Eric Srack, who also operated a local drug paraphernalia shop, the Grind, where Taylor bought the drugs he smoked before his death. Later on, the products would be distributed by a variety of independent gasoline stations and tobacco stores in Salina, and branched out to other communities such as El Dorado and Abilene, Norton said.

Eric Srack was the businessman responsible for the flood of synthetic drugs in Salina, police say. His store, The Grind, sold a wide variety of synthetic drugs until police raided the business in 2010. Srack was convicted of three drug crimes in 2011, and is currently in the Kansas prison system.

Eric Srack was the businessman responsible for the flood of synthetic drugs in Salina, police say. His store, The Grind, sold a wide variety of synthetic drugs until police raided the business in 2010. Srack was convicted of three drug crimes in 2011, and is currently in the Kansas prison system.

“It started as a legitimate business and ended as a criminal enterprise,” said Norton about Srack’s booming business.

And opposed to the underground dealings of drug dealers of the past, Srack’s business was all out in the open. He even set up shop within view of the police station, the building adorned with psychedelic murals.

As soon as the Salina police became aware of K2, they bought the product and shipped it to labs for testing. Once some of the chemicals in substances like K2 were banned in 2010, police had the tools to apply for search and arrest warrants against businesses such as Srack’s.

The day after Taylor died, a detective went to the Grind and purchased some packets of synthetic drugs, which later tested positive for one of the banned substances. Srack was arrested and later convicted of three felony counts of illegal drug distribution based on the detective’s purchases. He’ll be eligible for parole next year.

Norton said the void left by Srack’s imprisonment was quickly filled by a Boise, Idaho, company named Zombie Matter.

The business was run by Boise resident Mark Ciccarello, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office. Additional chemicals had been added to the banned Kansas list by 2011, but Zombie Matter was able to stay one step ahead, obtaining modified compounds from overseas, then distributing them to several Salina stores, where they’ve been sold on and off for the past year.

Zombie Matter has since been dissolved in Idaho after failing to renew annual paperwork. But Ciccarello, who did not return requests for comment, began a new company in Idaho in 2012. It’s unclear whether the business distributes synthetic substances.

‘Like Russian roulette’

Inside the poison control center at the Kansas University Hospital, Daling McMoran, a short, intense man with bulky muscles, gets pretty worked up talking about synthetic drugs.

“You’re playing with fire here,” he said. “I don’t have to make this stuff up. It’s like a horror movie.”

For the past three years, McMoran, an educator with the poison control center, has been tasked with learning about synthetic drugs and then spreading the word about such substances to area schools and communities.

Using scientific drawings of the chemical components of the various drugs that have populated the market the past few years, McMoran explains that the chemicals are built off the basic foundations of methamphetamine, LSD, PCP and marijuana. Crafty chemists simply tweak a chemical here or there, and create a temporarily legal compound found in synthetic drugs.

His center began receiving calls from law enforcement about K2 in 2009. The bigger concerns came from emergency rooms encountering patients exhibiting a wide range of bizarre behaviors not seen before, even with methamphetamine use. Effects included increased heart rate, paranoia, agitation, hallucinations, seizures, aggressiveness and kidney failure.

Numerous media reports from across the country have highlighted other violent and bizarre behaviors, including several cannibalistic attacks involving people who had ingested bath salts, another type of synthetic drug that mimics the effects of the street drug ecstasy. Several others have reportedly died of heart attacks.

One big problem with the substances, whether they’re bath salts or synthetic cannabinoids, is the lack of uniformity, McMoran said, a concern echoed by others interviewed by the Journal-World.

“They’re never the same from location to location,” he said.

Drug users have some general idea what to expect when they smoke marijuana or snort cocaine, but a lack of quality control in synthetic drugs leaves the effects up to chance.

“It’s like Russian roulette,” McMoran said.

And there isn’t any guarantee that you’re even taking what you think you’re taking, Morris said. The chemical changes made since K2 hit the market in 2009 leave users with a widely unpredictable high.

“In many ways, no one knows what’s in these products, even the vendors themselves,” Morris said. “It really is a buyer beware.”

Google Map

Map of synthetic drugs in Kansas


View Synthetic drugs in Kansas in a larger map

A look at a few of the places in Kansas which have played a role in the synthetic drug battle.

Comments

kansanbygrace 1 year, 7 months ago

(Guess it's rotating ads. The one in reference was for an inhaler drug)

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kansanbygrace 1 year, 7 months ago

Did anyone else find it wierd that the ad at the top of this article is for a synthetic drug?

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uglyrumor 1 year, 7 months ago

It would appear that the definition of the "me" generation is the word conservative.

1

Pork_Ribs 1 year, 7 months ago

"But by all means, continue to blame all of us for noticing the flaws in your screed against people who can't take responsibility for themselves"

Who exactly in my post "can't take responsibility for themselves"? Your fabrication. What flaws? Stereotyping? Generalizing? You haven't found one flaw. Here it is: "It's called the deterioration of a self-centered, liberal culture. It's the "what's in it for me" attitude and "I'll do whatever I want and blame everyone else for my problems" mentality that started with the hippie movement and is now rampant because they have taught their children their ways. Baby-Boomers with their hands out teaching their insecure offspring by example."

Because you are the king of "structured arguments" huh?

"..directed willy nilly at people that they don't apply to" If you are a Liberal...they apply to you. "that you assume Must be deadbeats because they think that you're a fool" Your words not mine. But... since your on the topic. Yes...most Liberals are deadbeats because they enable people to be deadbeats and contribute directly to their demise.

Thanks for the validation. The points are obvious to anyone who's observed our society first hand for at least 30 years. You obviously haven't. Very aparent by your inability to argue. Typical young Lib...if you can't argue a point....attack the messenger and call them a fool that you will be "laughing at". Simpletons are easily satisfied.

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jonas_opines 1 year, 7 months ago

"Angry with Lefties like yourself with their hands out. Angry...sure. A fool...well....you haven't argued with my points...nor have any of your leftie cohorts. So..."

I did argue your point. The only argument that your point was worth. Which is, of course, that you have no point.

So here it is again, reposted from above.

"Sorry...those aren't Stereotypes....those are generalizations."

Potato, poTahto.

Since all you've offered is generalization based off of your own biases, with no Facts at all, it's a little difficult to disprove without saying, essentially: "well, those are just your generalizations (stereotypes)".

But by all means, continue to blame all of us for noticing the flaws in your screed against people who can't take responsibility for themselves. That's sure to make us change our minds about you. chuckle


So whenever you learn to differentiate between a structured argument and an empty conglomeration of generalizations and stereotypes, directed willy nilly at people that they don't apply to, that you assume Must be deadbeats because they think that you're a fool, let me know. Until then, I'll just be laughing at you.

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gbulldog 1 year, 7 months ago

Drugs are a way to control the masses. The British did it to China with Opium. The Federal Government did it with Alcohol and Tobacco to generate taxes to operate the Government. Two options to stop it: 1) remove the heads of the illegal drug dealers in order to determine why they are selling pushing illegal drugs, and 2)send all illeg drug users to Danelli in the winter time to shovel snow. Illegal drugs users, smokers and drunks violate my civil rights. Why do they get protection and I do not?

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Pork_Ribs 1 year, 7 months ago

Could you guys actually argue against the post? Didn't think so. Very typical of lefties. When they can't argue against something...they change the subject and try to mock. Thanks for the validation.

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Pork_Ribs 1 year, 7 months ago

Sounds like you need to brush up on your vocabulary. Where exactly did I "stereotype"?

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tomatogrower 1 year, 7 months ago

What is it with people? "I gotta get high." "I gotta get drunk." "I gotta take pills to get through the day." Why not just try dealing with your problems head on? Maybe I just don't have an addictive personality (ok, maybe chocolate). Don't you think you should ask yourself why you can't have fun without getting wasted? Maybe you are a boring person. Try new things and don't be so boring, instead of getting high. Join reality, it's really not all that bad. Look at the beautiful sky, watch a sunset or sunrise. Even this drought has produced some interesting colors. If you are awake to the world, you don't need drugs or alcohol.

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cabocrazed 1 year, 7 months ago

I'll go out on a limb as well and speculate that most, if not, all of you have ever worked in an Emergency Room. This isn't a white-only, black-only, Asian-only- Hispanic-only drug - this junk knows no color.

Self-limiting panic attacks?? How about violence on anyone within 5 feet of the person that smoked this junk. Violence so extreme that restraints and law enforcement are involved.

You don't think that alcohol is addressed sufficiently? You must not read the news much. Almost every DUI, OWI, pedestrian vs. auto can be attributed to alcohol. Is that enough mention? This article is about synthetics. Contact the author if ou don't like the content.

Quit trying to justify this junk's existence. If you are so stupid to use it, then lock yourself in room and give someone the keys. Don't make people out in the community, including healthcare workers, to deal with your foolishness.

1

deec 1 year, 7 months ago

The simple solution would be to legalize the natural herb which causes none of the alleged side effects attributed to the synthetic version.

4

geekin_topekan 1 year, 7 months ago

  1. I don't expect anything from forum participants but reactionary blather which is easily accommodated.2. Maybe he isn't aware of that the perspective exists (it's called workshopping), 3. Conservatives don't need to win arguments, or do they?
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geekin_topekan 1 year, 7 months ago

Out of his mind high; Like a horror movie; Probation drug tests; Powerful., painful, tragic; Never in my 25 years; Stateside; Public enemy #1; Yep, pretty strong words there Shaun.

Now replace every drug reference with the word "alcohol" and you've found a genuine story. Now, go ask an ER doc how alcohol plays a factor in his profession, insert words like horror and out of his mind and you've got something real to write about and not this piece of propaganda. Is this what LJWorls is coming to?

I am going to go out on a limb here and speculate that most of the "horrific" incidents surrounding K2 and other synthetic drugs are surrounding young white people. I am going to speculate that is why the propagation. If people on the reservation or the ghetto were primarily the one getting warped, it would be a matter of personal responsibility and simple possession of K2 would bring a sentence 6Xs as high as the natural versions.

So why is alcohol not referenced when its painfully obvious that it destroys more lives than marijuana could ever dream of ruining? Because elites and lawmakers are regular users for one thing. Another is that the lives, cultures, even entire nations which have been decimated by alcohol are not white.

Alcohol=good, because elite whites can drink it and it kills poor and minorities. K2 bad because elites don't care for it and white kids are showing its negative effects.

Bad piece Shaun. Racist, classist, separatist and skewed.

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LWbored 1 year, 7 months ago

While I will agree this drug is more dangerous and addictive than plain marijuana, this article is a little over the top.

"Lawrence police say synthetic drugs have not been a big issue locally since the 2010 raid."--This is a pretty general statement with little meaning. No one has died, but it is still a big seller in gas stations.

"Inside the poison control center at the Kansas University Hospital, Daling McMoran, a short, intense man with bulky muscles, gets pretty worked up talking about synthetic drugs."-- What. This is a very interesting description... couldn't you just say he is a doctor, researcher, or physically fit?

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kawrivercrow 1 year, 7 months ago

“I have never, in my 25-year career, seen a drug that has put more people in the hospital like synthetic cannabinoids,” he said.

Balderdash!! Anyone who works in an ER knows alcohol is the single greatest drug-use cause of hospital admissions.

Nearly all synthetic cannibinoid-related ER visits were due to self-limiting panic attacks. There were also a few seizures, although given the huge underground usage rate of K2, etc., the actual seizure induction prevalence was far lower than in buproprion, St John's wort, and other common Rx and OTC drugs and certainly much, much lower than that of alcohol.

The seizures were probably due to contaminants, much like methanol contamination caused unnecessary pathology in bootleg liquor back in the prohibition days.

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