Pubdate: Wed, 11 Nov 2015
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2015 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Leana Wen
Note: Dr. Leana Wen is the Baltimore City health commissioner.


Baltimore Moves to Eradicate Synthetic Drugs in the City As Emergency 
Room Visits Rise

When you think about drugs that ultimately lead people to the E.R., 
the first things that come to mind might be heroin, cocaine or 
prescription drugs. However, there is another dangerous set of 
substances that are sending thousands to hospitals across the 
country: synthetic drugs.

As an emergency physician, I have treated high school students who 
came in unresponsive and needed breathing tubes to stay alive. I have 
seen teens hallucinating and suffering seizures. I have attended to 
adults who sustained long-term brain, heart and kidney damage because 
of these harmful drugs.

These are substances that can cause lifelong health problems and lead 
to death, yet they are widely available, often sold in corner stores 
or gas stations. Many people, including retailers, parents and teens, 
don't know how dangerous they are. Popularly known as K2, "spice" or 
"bath salts," these substances are marketed as "safe" alternatives to 
illicit drugs. Actually, they are just as dangerous because they 
contain untested chemical compounds that have devastating 
consequences for users. Many are misleadingly marketed as room 
fresheners, herbal incense or potpourri, but they are not household 
products at all; they are manmade chemicals sprayed on dried plants. 
Scientists have called these substances Russian Roulette; you never 
know what you will get, and it will likely harm or kill you.

Many forms of synthetic drugs are illegal in the state of Maryland. 
However, drug manufacturers have come up with clever ways of getting 
around the laws by making small changes to the chemical compounds. 
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has tracked over 300 
different active ingredients in less than a decade, making 
enforcement extremely challenging.

All the while, manufacturers target unsuspecting customers, including 
our teens. Nationally, one in nine 12th-graders reported using 
synthetic drugs in the past year. Of the illicit substances used by 
high-school seniors, they rank second only to marijuana.

In Baltimore, our emergency rooms are seeing a marked increase in 
patients using these substances. As a result, the Health Department 
is launching a concerted campaign against synthetic drugs. We have 
convened leading doctors and public health officials to sign the 
Baltimore Statement About the Danger of Synthetic Drugs. We are 
working with our doctors and nurses to educate patients and encourage 
testing for these harmful compounds.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently announced a proactive new 
bill that will stiffen penalties for local businesses selling these 
drugs. This bill allows the Health Department to remove synthetic 
drugs from stores at the time they are found so that we can stop the 
sales of this dangerous product. It also decreases the burden of 
proof necessary by imposing civil in addition to criminal penalties 
for sellers.

We know that the vast majority of our city's business owners already 
want to do the right thing and will work with us to stop this 
dangerous product. That's why we sent letters to nearly1,300 corner 
stores, grocery stores, gas stations and other businesses, asking 
owners to sign a pledge not to sell these products and urging them to 
post "Not a Drug Dealer" signs in their windows. Our letters also 
include a guide to help businesses identify synthetic drugs so that 
they can help to be on the lookout with us.

Finally, we have started a public health education campaign: Don't 
Roll the Dice With Spice. We need community help to spread the 
message. Parents: Talk to your children about synthetic drugs; they 
are no safer than any illicit drug and must be avoided. Teachers: 
Please help to educate your students. Residents: If you see a 
business that is selling these drugs, please call 311.

If you know someone who has used synthetic drugs, help is available. 
Please call our 24/7 Crisis, Information & Referral Line for any 
substance-use related or mental health condition at 410-433-5175. 
Treatment is available and recovery is possible.

Baltimore's communities cannot afford to play a game of chance with 
synthetic drugs. By standing united against synthetic drugs, we can 
make Baltimore a national leader in the fight against these deadly substances.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom