A local 16-year-old boy suffered a seizure after combining his medications with synthetic marijuana often called “K2.” A woman in Kentucky high on “Plant Food” hallucinated that her two-year-old son was a demon, knocked him unconscious with a folding chair and then threw him onto the passing lane of a major highway. In Louisiana, a man seeing visions when using Plant Food opened a skinning knife and repeatedly slit his face and stomach, but he survived.
Here in Winona, addiction experts and law enforcement officials are worried that soon, the dramatic rise in synthetic drug use might claim the life of a young person, watching as local emergency rooms treat an average of six synthetic drug overdose cases a week, anxiously awaiting the July 1 date when many of the dangerous substances will officially become illegal. The legislation making the drugs known as plant food, bath salts, K2 and a list of other compounds will provide tools for law enforcement officials to help address the growing problems here in Winona. But with the new class of drugs marketed as plant food, bath salts, and incense widely available on the Internet, crossing the July 1 date off the calendar won’t make the problem go away.
Winona County Sheriff Dave Brand recently tried to pare back the availability of some of these synthetic drugs prior to the new law becoming effective, and went to Downtown Book and Video and encouraged the manager there to remove some of the synthetic compounds from the shelves. The store had been selling synthetic marijuana and the drug commonly called bath salts, which the manager agreed to remove prematurely.
But some of the most dramatic stories coming out of Winona these days involving synthetic drugs stem from the use of a drug commonly called plant food: mephedrone. Experts say it’s highly addictive, can cause hallucinations and extreme paranoia, and has emergency workers often jumping to respond to frantic calls for help from those who think aliens, werewolves or demons are out to kill them. One man in Winona County recently was accused of firing off a firearm in a residential neighborhood as he hallucinated that someone was trying to steal his car; another man had to be coaxed down from a ledge who threatened to jump while high on the drug, and several East End residents report youngsters high on the stuff wandering the streets at night like paranoid, strung-out zombies.
There’s still plenty of confusion out there about the new synthetic drugs, but officials are hoping that a public outreach campaign can help educate parents and community members about their dangers. The Winona County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has compiled research on the spectrum of synthetic drugs, a community forum was held recently, and a bill authored by Senator Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) will make them illegal beginning July 1.
As the use of plant food and other synthetic drugs has risen in the past 10 months, law enforcement officials have had trouble compiling all of the incidents in which they have encountered emergency calls and dangerous situations stemming from their use. Without a criminal citation, computer systems don’t track synthetic drug incidents in the way they do other crimes, but local drug abuse therapists have said that when it comes to plant food, especially, Winona is seeing way more cases of overdoses and bad reactions than in other areas.
It appears as though there are still several retail locations where a person can purchase synthetic marijuana, at least until July 1. But the Winona Post was unable to find a commercial establishment that carries plant food, or one that would admit that it ever had.
Still, a simple Internet search for the drug instantly calls up dozens of web sites that distribute plant food and other synthetic drugs, and in other parts of the country when a particular synthetic compound is made illegal, it’s often altered just enough to be considered another substance altogether. Then, it’s back on the shelves.
Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Counselor Todd Hoffe said that he fears that Winona may soon see its first death caused by synthetic drug use, and hopes that getting the community talking about the problem will help with prevention. “Parents need to get educated, first,” he said. “I do think that everybody needs to be talking about this.”
Winona Police Community Liaison Officer Kevin Kearney said that the new laws prohibiting the drugs will help give law enforcement officials the tools to address the epidemic that they currently lack. “It’s a great step forward,” he said.
The bill will also make it illegal to possess or sell other synthetic drugs known as 2C-E and 2C-1. The two drugs are synthetic stimulants that are considered psychedelic and produce hallucinations. While their use has not been reported in Winona, the drugs can be fatal.
According to research done by the Winona County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, 2C-E is taken orally, snorted, inserted rectally and can be injected. Reports of intravenous injection include the warning that it can be dangerous to do alone because a person often begins hallucinating before the plunger is empty. In March, a 19-year-old Blaine man died of an overdose after using 2C-E at a party, where 10 other young people were also hospitalized after showing signs of overdose.
•Chemical name: Mephedrone, 4-methylmethcathinone
•It’s snorted, injected, swallowed
•It’s an amphetamine-like drug that can also produce hallucinations and extreme paranoia
•Can cause dizziness, seizures, strokes, inflammation of blood vessels in the brain, and users can often pose a danger to themselves due to hallucinations and paranoid behavior
•Chemical name: Methylenedioxypyrovalerone or MDPV
•It’s snorted, injected, swallowed
•It’s in the same family of drugs as methamphetamines and MDMA (commonly found in ecstasy), and can increase alertness, euphoria and sensory awareness
•Can cause hypertension, nausea, high body temperatures, kidney pain, breathing difficulty and intense panic attacks
(K2, Spice, synthetic marijuana)
•Often an organic plant mixture sprayed with chemicals JWH-018 and JWH-073
•It’s smoked, can also be
brewed as tea
•Produces effects similar
to marijuana but can often
be much stronger
•Can produce severe agitation, vomiting, heart rate and blood pressure increases, hallucinations and seizures