Toxicologist stresses dangers of new 'designer' drugs

November 1, 2011

About a dozen local law enforcement officers joined more than 50 Rosecrance staff on Oct. 28 for a training at the Rosecrance Harrison Campus about the dangerous “designer drug” K-2/Spice, often sold as “bath salts.”

Presenter Amy Miles, a forensic toxicologist for the State of Wisconsin, stressed that there is no reliable research on the effects of these new drugs, which have become popular among teens and adults alike. She reported on her observations in controlled lab tests with subjects who use the drugs, but most information comes from law enforcement officers, she said.

The drug often looks like organic material resembling potpourri or marijuana. It has been treated with a synthetic drug of various chemical properties and strengths. The effects, while unpredictable, include seizures, hallucinations, euphoria, disorientation, increased heart rate and blood pressure, paranoia, poor perception of time and distance, irritability, restlessness, body tremors and aches, profuse sweating, violent behavior and combativeness.

“People are taking them and they are not really sure what the effects are,” Miles said.

The drug packages may be labeled “not for human consumption,” Miles said, but those instructions are ignored as the synthetic drugs are baked into food products, smoked, snorted or injected. The drugs also may be converted to pill or liquid form. Ingredients in some of the early generation of the so-called bath salts were made illegal in both Wisconsin and Illinois. In response, Miles said, drug manufacturers have been busy altering the chemical structure of the illegal drugs to create loopholes that keep the products on the market. Some of the illegal drug manufacturers are trained chemists, she said.

Rosecrance Access Coordinator Craig Riehle said the organization is treating a growing number of patients who have used these drugs.

They can be obtained at some convenience stories or so-called “headshops.” Miles’ PowerPoint presentation included numerous online sites offering the products.

Complicating enforcement and diagnosis, designer drugs often don’t show up in routine drug screens, Miles said. She reviewed various kinds of field tests for drug use that can indicate what type of drug a person has used.

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