Pubdate: Sun, 08 Feb 2015
Source: Gazette, The  (Cedar Rapids, IA)
Copyright: 2015 Gazette Communications
Author: Lee Hermiston


Measure inspired by Cedar Rapids couple, local ordinance

CEDAR RAPIDS - The city's action against the sale of synthetic drugs -
which tackled the substances from a consumer fraud-and-protection
approach rather than trying to keep pace with their ever-changing
chemical make up - came just too late for Jerrald Meek.

After struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and a two-year
addiction to synthetic marijuana, the Army veteran took his life in
his parent's Cedar Rapids home, on Aug. 26, 2014.

The city's amendment, which gave police the ability to fine and charge
anyone selling synthetic drugs based on false advertising or
misrepresentation of the substances, passed unanimously that same night.

Meek's death was not in vain, however. It galvanized the efforts of
his parents, Jerry and Gwen Meek, as well as city council member Susie
Weinacht, local legislators and others.

On Tuesday, state Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Cedar Rapids, filed a bill in Des
Moines that would punish those who sell synthetic drugs and is similar
to the Cedar Rapids amendment. Synthetic marijuana - also known by
street names such as K2 or spice - is typically organic material
sprayed with chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana.

Side effects can include seizures, delusions, hallucinations and

"This is something that will literally save Iowans' lives," Rizer said

The Soldier

As with so many veterans, the war followed Jerrald Meek home. And, as
with other veterans, Meek self-medicated to try to keep the demons at

Meek graduated from Metro High School in 1998 and joined the Army the
following year, where he served with the 82nd Airborne Division. After
a tour of duty in Kosovo and Macedonia, Meek was honorably discharged,
attended college, met his future wife and had a daughter.

In 2009, Meek re-enlisted, this time with the Army Special Forces, his
father, Jerry said.

Meek's second tour of duty took him to Afghanistan. During a mission,
his best friend was killed, his father said.

"He had survivor's guilt," Jerry Meek said. "His wife called the
commander of the base and told them that he needed help, and they
didn't do a thing."

Despite his struggles, Meek enlisted for a third time and returned to
Afghanistan. During that tour of duty, Meek was shot in the side. In
2012, with 14 years under his belt and hopes to stay on for 20, Meeks
was given his general discharge.

K2 had turned up in a drug test.

Meek moved with his wife and daughter to Fort Collins, Colo. On July
2, 2012, his wife walked out on him, leaving Jerrald with his
daughter. Jerry drove to Colorado and returned to Cedar Rapids with
his son and granddaughter on July 5.

While back home and living with his parents, Jerrald continued to use
K2, his father said.

"We were worried that it was affecting him," Jerry said. "We could see
it physically when he would smoke K2. His face and neck got bright
red. It drove his blood pressure sky high."

When the Meeks found their son's pipe for smoking, they tossed it out.
Packages of K2 were destroyed.

Jerrald was seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist, but he refused
to take his medications.

In the summer 2014, while his parents and daughter were away in
Minnesota, Jerrald overdosed on K2 and was hospitalized. His parents
learned about it from their neighbor, who had called an ambulance.

"He really didn't give us an explanation," Jerry said. "He said he
just overdid it on the K2. He just said it like that and brushed it
off like this wasn't nothing big."

Later that summer, plans were made for Jerrald's daughter to go stay
with her mother in North Carolina. In the days leading up to her
departure, Jerrald got quiet, Jerry recalled.

On Aug. 26, Gwen Meek saw Jerrald's bedroom door was open, which was
rare. She opened the door and called for her son.

"The next thing I know she's screaming and calling his name and my
name," Jerry said. "He had hung himself on the door knob. That's the
way we found him."

Following their son's death, the Meeks took it upon themselves to
educate others about the dangers of synthetic drugs. Impressed with
Cedar Rapids's ordinance, the Meeks started a petition to urge state
lawmakers to pass a similar measure.

"We just want it to not happen to any more kids," Jerry said. "A
parent shouldn't have to bury his son or daughter in their teens or
early 30s because of something that a person can make a thousand times
profit on and line their pockets."

While collecting signatures, Gwen Meek met council member Susie

The City Council member

One of the driving forces behind the city's synthetic drugs amendment
was Weinacht, who took office last January.

"I was contacted by someone within the neighborhood saying, 'Susie,
you really need to take a look at this issue,'" Weinacht recalled.
"It's really a problem."

Weinacht met with Cedar Rapids police brass and city staff and
conducted her own research. She found that attacking synthetic drugs
based only on their chemical composition wasn't getting the job done.

"It's always changing," she said. "you're always chasing it. (With the
city's amendment), we're going at the heart of the issue."

After the amendment passed, Weinacht was at a Wellington Heights
fundraiser. At the same fundraiser was a woman with a legal pad and a
copy of the city's ordinance. That woman was Gwen Meek.

Weinacht listened to her story about her son and her hopes for a
statewide synthetic drug ordinance.

"She said, 'It was three weeks too late for my son with this
ordinance, but everyone deserves this ordinance," Weinacht said. "I
said we will do whatever we can to help you champion this."

While the Meeks campaigned, Weinacht worked behind the scenes with
local legislators. One of those officials was Ken Rizer.


Though still barely a month into his first term as a state
representative, Ken Rizer is no stranger to the threat of synthetic

While serving as commander of Andrews Air Force Base from 2010 to
2012, Rizer was forced to deal with a K2 drug ring in the Air Force
National Guard. In the end, Rizer kicked 12 people out of the Air
Force for their involvement in the ring while also making efforts to
make synthetic marijuana illegal in Maryland before the federal
government recognized it as a Schedule I narcotic.

Rizer retired from the Air Force in 2012 and moved to Cedar Rapids. In
2014, he saw a letter to the editor written by Gwen Meek about her

"It said her veteran son died from this stuff," he said. "We felt we
needed to do more at the state level."

Rizer got into contact with the Meeks, as well as Steven Lukan,
director of the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy. Lukan sent Rizer
information about a bill in Florida that addressed synthetic drugs
through their marketing and other means, rather than their chemical

In the email chain with Lukan, Rizer said he said Weinacht was taking
a similar approach in Cedar Rapids.

"I agreed to kind of partner with her and take what she had done at
the city level and expand it statewide," he said.

Rizer was not alone at the state house. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids,
also supported Rizer's efforts.

"It's like a virus, they sort of mutate or change the formulas," Staed
said. "Trying to legislate against a particular drug or formula isn't

Rizer's bill was co-sponsored by Staed. State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar
Rapids, said last week he intends to file a companion bill in the senate.

"Linn County is really kind of leading the way on this issue," Rizer

The bill, filed Tuesday, is Rizer's first. He expects it to be
assigned to the public safety committee, of which Staed is a member.

"When I think of this bill, I picture Gwen Meek," Rizer said. "She
invited me to her house. I was able to see the pictures of her son.
It's very, very real for me."

To date, the Cedar Rapids amendment has not resulted in any fines or
criminal charges, said Amanda Grieder, the city's coordinator for the
SAFE-CR nuisance abatement program. Still, the Meeks are confident
that this is the best way to address the synthetic drug issue.

K2 ordinance has 'better chance of success'

While Cedar Rapids city officials say that no arrests have come out of
the synthetic drug ordinance passed in August 2014, a prevention
specialist with Area Substance Abuse Counsel (ASAC) said people
seeking treatment for synthetic drugs has decreased.

ASAC-certified prevention specialist Curt Wheeler said synthetic drug
treatment has decreased at ASAC and the Sedlacek Treatment Center at
Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. However, it's difficult to know
if that's due to the ordinance, which allows police in the city to
criminally charge anyone who sells synthetic drugs based on false
advertising or misrepresenting the substances, Wheeler said.

"Can we fully connect that to the ordinance? I don't know that we can
just yet," he said.

Synthetic marijuana - also known as K2 or spice - is organic material
doused in chemicals meant to mimic the effects of marijuana. However,
the potency of the drugs varies wildly, leading some to experience
seizures, hallucinations, delusions, violent outbursts and

Wheeler said a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control said
synthetic marijuana can have long-term effects on the liver as well.

Unlike most drugs, there is no reliable test that shows synthetic
marijuana use, Wheeler said. That makes it difficult to accurately
assess if people are using.

And that lack of an effective test is one of the appeals of the drug,
Wheeler said.

"You still have a group of people that are capitalizing on the
confusion with drug testing," he said.

Adding to the issue is that synthetic marijuana was commonly found in
stores as producers skirted around federal laws by continually
alerting the chemical makeup of the drugs. That created the illusion
that the drug was not harmful.

"Youth will say this is just a safe, legal form of marijuana. 'It's
being sold in stores, it must be OK.' You still have that," Wheeler

However, Wheeler said calling the substance synthetic marijuana is a
misnomer as the two substances have little in common.

"Right now, we know the perception of marijuana is it's no big deal,"
he said. "It's OK, it's safe. This stuff is really, really dangerous
. Be careful when we call this stuff marijuana."

Without reliable testing, Wheeler said it's difficult to ascertain
what demographics are being hit hardest by synthetic drugs.

"I've heard everything from middle-schoolers getting their hands on it
up through adults getting their hands on it," Wheeler said. "It's
scary stuff."

 From the perspective that synthetic drugs are still available -
despite police efforts and federal raids - Wheeler said current
approaches are not effective. However, he praised the Cedar Rapids
ordinance as a method that could see better results.

"This type of intervention has a better success rate," he said. "I
think it has a better chance of success."
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