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The never-ending battle against synthetic drugs


by Tom Chillemi
Third in a series. Part 1Part 2

A monster has been unleashed in the form of synthetic drugs, some of which are sold legally.

The exact contents of these drugs are not known. What is certain is that some of the ingredients cause mental problems for users, and often consume the valuable time of law enforcement officials.

Middlesex County Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael T. Hurd said there have been several court cases involving use of synthetic cannabinoids, which mimics the effects of marijuana, sometimes with devastating side effects.

Synthetic drugs, commonly known as “Bath Salts,” include over 80 drugs sold in small packets in local specialty shops and online. One particularly dangerous synthetic stimulant drug is “AMP,” which is sold as a “lady bug attractant,” Hurd explained.  

One case Hurd prosecuted involved family members reporting that the defendant had been awake for several days, was tearing up the home, chasing things in the yard that were not there, and threatening to shoot his family.

In another case, a family reported the defendant had been taking AMP and that he hallucinated seeing a man, who was not there. This drug-crazed defendant was wielding a pistol and a shotgun and was opening doors and screaming while looking for people that only existed in his mind. A Middlesex deputy found the man holding a loaded shotgun and wearing only his underwear.

“The man admitted to deputies that he was ‘amped up’ when he did significant damage to his sibling’s house on two occasions this past spring,” said Hurd. “A deputy found him lying in a hallway, sweaty with a fast heartbeat, claiming that men with guns came into his residence through his air conditioner. He was hallucinating and asking why people with guns were in the kitchen.”

The man was sentenced to active probation and suspended jail time for the property damage convictions, and ordered to undergo counseling and pay restitution, Hurd noted.

By the time the law catches up to a person in this condition, it may be too late. What if the loaded shotgun had been fired?

Taxing services
Captain M.E. Sampson of the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office said two deputies were engaged for 4 hours in stopping this deranged man.

Law enforcement officials note that to avoid breaking the law, synthetic drug manufacturers are constantly changing the chemicals—and the users and society face the consequences.

Capt. Sampson said a man with a synthetic drug-induced psychosis showed up at the sheriff’s office claiming the FBI had infiltrated his computer and cell phone.

Drug use exacts a heavy toll on society. In a recent DUI arrest, the suspect had cocaine in the car and several empty packages of synthetic drugs, said Sampson. “These people are already in that [drug] lifestyle,” he said. “Eighty percent of breaking-and-entering cases are related to some sort of substance abuse.”

Banned chemicals
Law enforcement is making some progress in banning synthetic drugs, said Linda Jackson, the Chemical Program Manager with the Virginia Department of Forensic Science (DFS). The 2012 General Assembly added more than 20 chemicals to the list of illegal bath salt-type substances.  “Generally, the compounds we are seeing recently are now listed as illegal in Virginia,” said Jackson. “That list seems to be pretty comprehensive.”

However, for synthetic cannabinoids, the 2012 General Assembly added both chemicals and classes of chemicals to the list of prohibited substances, said Jackson. “The manufacturers are quick to change compounds to skirt the law, and the DFS is currently seeing substances which are not specifically covered by statute.”  

Another problem with these drugs is that the ingredients are changing, said Jackson. “That makes them doubly dangerous because users do not know what they are taking, and certainly don’t know what the concentration is.”

And that brightly colored package on display in a “specialty” shop could contain a deadly mixture. Chemicals that become illegal locally are likely to be removed by local stores—then sold on the internet, said Sampson.

Law enforcement agents have a strategy for fighting synthetic drugs, said Sampson, who added he could not elaborate. “There are a lot of different battles on a lot of different fronts.”

Part 4

posted 10.31.2012

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