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Synthetic street drugs are unpredictable. Most of the chemicals used to make K-2, N-Bomb, Bath Salts and others are ordered online and are shipped from China in bulk. Dealers mix the chemicals with solvents and spray them on whatever will be used as the delivery system, whether it be leaves or blotter paper. “There is no quality control,” says Dr. Kristina Domanksi with the North Texas Poison Center at Parkland Hospital. “There is nothing to say that the chemical your getting is the one that was advertised on the website. So, people really are taking a gamble.”

KRLD Investigative Series: Synthetic Drugs:

Each person reacts differently to synthetic drugs and each batch is different. Some people simply stare into space. Others can have seizures.

“We have seen people who have become so agitated that their muscles start to break down, they have kidney failure, they have seizures,” says  Dr. Shannon Rickner with the North Texas Poison Center at Parkland Hospital. “They are so aggressive and delirious that police are required to restrain them in order to get them to us to get help. It is a very interesting phenomenon, one like we haven’t really seen before.”

There are protocols in place for treating people who overdose or have a bad reaction to most street drugs,  but synthetics are too new and too different to respond to in a uniform way. Essentially, emergency room docs have to treat the symptoms the patient is presenting and hopefully get it right. “We don’t have a specific medication to immediately reverse the effects,” says Dr. Rickner. ” We don’t have a direct antidote, as we do with heroin, for example.”

(K-2 Structure Public Domain)

(K-2 Structure Public Domain)

Phoenix House is one of the few treatment centers that offers recovery programs for people who have habitually used or become addicted to synthetic drugs. Jack Feinberg, VP and Clinical Director with Phoenix House says they have had some success, but the psychological state of some of the patients makes treatment challenging. Those who  use synthetics habitually could be doing permanent damage to their brains. Feinberg says a young man recently returned for treatment after having taken K-2 habitually for several months and  “was a different kid.”

“He had major psychiatric symptoms, ” says Feinberg. “It wasn’t pretty. We were shocked. We don’t know if this stuff is going to be permanent. It’s too new.”

New synthetics are constantly being developed and new formulas for existing drugs, like K-2, are as well. By changing the formula, there is less of a chance of the drug showing up on a toxicology test run by an employer or police department. This is part of the appeal. The changes also mean new possible marketing opportunities for dealers, who change the packaging or “brand” names of the drugs they sell.

(K-2 Structure Public Domain)

(K-2 Structure Public Domain)

Earlier this year, several people came to North Texas emergency rooms having overdosed on something that appeared to be morphine, but was many times more potent.  The doctors at the North Texas Poison Control Center have identified it as U-47700. Too new to have a common street name, U-47700 is a synthetic opioid, a pain medication,  that was developed in the 1970’s and essentially forgotten about.  Research and testing on U-47700 never progressed to the human trail phase and so it is not entirely clear how the drug effects people, what dosage is considered safe and what, if any, long term effects their may be.

K-2 started out as  JWH-018, a synthetic cannabinoid developed in a university lab for research. It is not clear how, but sometime around 2004, the formula was used to make what is now known as K-2 or Spice.

Universities are also leading the way when it comes to educating young people about the dangers of synthetics.  UT Dallas has launched a webpage called “Party Foul” that lists in detail the various street drugs and synthetics that are out there and the chance you take if you use them.

“We know that experimentation can happen on all college campuses,” says Casey Sebeniecher, who is the Assistant Director of the Student Wellness Center at UT Dallas.  She says that have opted to provide information rather than presenting a firm “just don’t do it.” approach when it comes to drug use on campus. Sebeniecher says they make sure students know that if they use synthetics or marijuana laced with synthetics that there is no way to know what they are getting and how it will effect them.  “When we tell students that, their eyes get very big. So, by being open and ‘talking real’ to them, it does make a difference.”

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