Pubdate: Wed, 25 Sep 2013
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2013 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: Andrea Noble
Page: A11


Playing 'Cat-And-Mouse' Game With Authorities Trying to Upgrade

A quarter to a third of young men drug tested as they passed through
the District's criminal justice system had recently used synthetic
marijuana, with positive results surprisingly high among those who
screened negative for more conventional illegal drugs, according to a
report released Wednesday.

The study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy highlights the
growing popularity of designer drugs in the District and suggests that
those under court-ordered monitoring use synthetics as a way to juke
the system.

"Up to now they might miss a particular drug but they wouldn't miss a
user. But now they are actually missing users," said the study's lead
investigator, Eric Wish, director of the University of Maryland's
Center for Substance Abuse Research. "What we find is the people
taking the drugs are pretty smart. They find out what is being tested
for and they don't take it."

The study tested urine samples submitted from November to March by 482
people in three different stages in the District's criminal justice
system - those arrested and in lockup, those under the supervision of
the Pretrial Services Agency while awaiting court dates, and those on
parole or probation and supervised through Court Services and Offender
Supervision Agency.

Use of synthetic marijuana - the study tested for 12 different types
of what is technically known as "synthetic cannabinoids" - appeared
most prevalent among men under 30 who were on parole or probation.

While the standard CSOSA drug panel tests for alcohol, marijuana,
cocaine, opiates, amphetamines and PCP, the study showed that 39
percent of men who had tested negative for those drugs were testing
positive for synthetic marijuana.

"The most logical explanation for this result is that persons who know
they are being tested by the [criminal justice system] and know that
[synthetic cannabinoid] is not being screened for are likely to use
[synthetic cannabinoids] to avoid detection," the report states.

The rate of synthetics' use among men under 30 who didn't test
positive for other drugs was 36 percent among those in pretrial services.

Among those in lockup, 24 percent of those who tested negative for
other drugs were found to have used synthetic marijuana. Results from
people in lockup - recent arrestees who didn't expect to be drug
tested - could provide the closest estimate of usage rates among the
general population.

"If it's in the criminal justice population, it tends to be in the
general population," Mr. Wish said.

Although reports of the growing prevalence of synthetic drugs have
skyrocketed in recent years, little research has been conducted on
usage locally and city officials said the numbers were something of a

"We were unpleasantly surprised with the number of people who were
testing positive," D.C. Pretrial Services Agency Director Clifford
Keenan said.

Synthetic marijuana is described by the Drug Enforcement
Administration as a mix of herbs and spices that are sprayed with a
synthetic substance similar to tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly
known as THC, the psychoactive ingredient in traditional marijuana.
Flashy packages label the drug with nicknames like "K2," "Spice" or
"Scooby Snax," among others, and are often marked as incense. Smoking
the drug can cause "paranoia, panic attacks and giddiness," the agency

The percentage of people missed by the standard screening panel shows
the frustrating reality faced by those trying to monitor designer drug
use - the rate at which new synthetic drugs can be created outpaces
the ability to create drug tests to identify users. Researchers
included testing for two compounds of synthetic marijuana in their
study that were only made illegal by the Drug Enforcement
Administration in May, yet those compounds comprised the bulk of the
positive results.

"This has just taken the cat-and-mouse game to an entirely new level,"
said Robert DuPont, the first director of the National Institute on
Drug Abuse and an authority on drug treatment and testing. "The
prevalence is way beyond what people have thought about."

But even when tests are developed, they have been cost prohibitive to
use them on a larger scale.

The District's Pretrial Services Agency in-house laboratory conducted
2.4 million separate drug tests last year alone. While the cost for
running a series of six standard drug tests averages about $2, the
cost to run one test for synthetic drugs is $25, Mr. Keenan said.

"As much as we would like to, the reality is we are never going to be
able to do the same volume of testing for synthetics as we do for the
cocaine and marijuana and PCP," Mr. Keenan said.

The D.C. Council adopted a law last year that classified some
synthetic drugs as Schedule 1 narcotics, which are subject to
stringent criminal penalties. In the meantime, the Department of
Health started awareness campaigns meant to educate young people about
the dangers of synthetic drugs.

Mr. Keenan said the office of the chief medical examiner is now able
to process some urine samples for synthetic drug testing and his
agency's lab is expected to receive new equipment next month that will
enable them to conduct in-house testing for synthetics.

"We are focusing traditionally on what have been the drugs of choice,"
Mr. Keenan said. "We're going to have to alter our treatment and
supervision strategies to recognize that synthetics are likewise
becoming a drug of choice."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt