Synthetic drugs offer a legal but dangerous high

A designer synthetic drug
A designer synthetic drug
Keith Kamita
Keith Kamita
Greg Suares
Greg Suares
Alan Johnson
Alan Johnson
Greg Azus
Greg Azus

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - "Spice", a  mixture packed and marketed as incense is also called "K2".  It mimics marijuana.

State Law Enforcement Deputy Director Keith Kamita points out "It looks like oregano".  Kamita showed us one version called "Spike."  He explains, "A lot of these drugs are synthetic cannabinoids.  So, they have similar characteristics like THC, or marijuana, but some of 'em are 200 to 500 times stronger".

Another popular designer drug is called "Bath Salts".  The powder's snorted or smoked and creates a high like crystal meth with frightening side effects.

In 2010, Bryan Roudebush attacked his girlfriend and tried to throw her off a Waikiki balcony while under the influence of "Spice".

That same year, Iowa teenager David Rozga committed suicide during a Spice high.

Actress Demi Moore recently collapsed after smoking an incense-like product.

Bad reactions to Spice and Bath Salts prompted fifteen emergency calls in Hawaii in 2011 and four so far this year.

Greg Suares works at the Queens Medical Center.  He's treated many patients suffering the effects of synthetic drugs.  Suares explains, "We've seen people come in comatose with elevated fevers who ended up having to go to the ICU for over a week with liver failure."

Keith Kamita adds, "…but it has other factors: palpitations, increased heart rate, other problems similar to crystal meth and ecstasy, but I think more dangerous."

Drug treatment expert Alan Johnson says damage can be long term.

"What happens is, if you don't have a major anxiety disorder and you don't have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), you take these drugs, they cause a chemical imbalance and you can end up with an anxiety disorder yourself", Johnson details.

Synthetic drugs began showing up in Hawaii a few years ago.  They were legal and sold at specialty stores called "head shops".  But because of their health risks, last year, the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration declared five synthetic drug chemicals illegal to sell.

Greg Azus has been in the head shop business for three decades.

He says he's never sold synthetic drugs... and never will.  But they're easy to find.

Azus warns, "It's readily available.  I know for a fact there's other stores.  They're selling herbal incense on a daily basis."

Honolulu police made three arrests last year after an undercover sting.  But the federal ban has wiggle room that synthetic drug makers exploit.

Alan Johnson, CEO of Hina Makua predicts, "We're going to see a whole lot more designer drugs because what you have is you have these creative chemists that can alter a molecule, and now it's legal again."

Tweaking the ingredients and marking the product "not for human consumption" allows them to dodge the law but it increases the danger because nothing's known about their affect on the human body.

Suares expects more medical emergencies.  "There's a lot of unknowns out there with these things", he cautions, "because they can change on a day-to-day basis".

State lawmakers drafted House Bill 2600 to battle synthetic drugs.  If it becomes law, scores of chemicals and compounds in designer drugs would be classified as controlled substances.

Keith Kamita elaborates, "We could stop it at mail branch.  We could stop it being shipped into Hawaii."

Until that happens, "Spice" and "Bath Salts" will continue to come into the state.  By their names, the products seem harmless, but the evidence says otherwise.

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