We’re thankful that local, county, and state officials are ramping up their efforts to educate the public about the dangers of synthetic drugs that are readily available at many area retail outlets, and are particularly pleased to see that some officials are using their bully pulpit to also ensure that products such as Spice/K2 — a synthetic marijuana that’s marketed as incense or potpourri but used by many people to get high — stay out of the hands of impressionable teenagers.
Last week, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Sheriff Michael Bouchard announced the county is providing decals to businesses that notify the county that they never have or no longer will sell Spice/K2, which contains dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that are responsible for psychoactive effects that reportedly mimic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana.
Under this initiative, retailers can call the Oakland County Health Division nurse on call at 800-848-5533 to receive a decal from the county. The retailers can then place the decal on their front door or elsewhere in their business so the public knows Spice/K2 isn’t available there.
Bouchard said Spice, K2 and similar products are “clearly dangerous and occasionally deadly.” He added that until the state enacts a law banning them, the best weapon to fight the spread of synthetic drugs is for consumers to refuse to frequent places “that sell this trash.”
The Waterford Coalition for Youth and 51st District Court Judge Jodi Debbrecht were the first in the area that we can recall springing into action to warn people about the dangers of these drugs. They teamed up to hold a town hall meeting on March 22 in Waterford after the coalition received calls from parents wanting to know what to look for and how to address Spice/K2 with their children.
Some states have passed bans on Spice/K2. In Michigan, the substance — in a very specific form — is technically illegal, but manufacturers get around an existing state law prohibiting it by slightly modifying the product’s chemical structure.
State Rep. Gail Haines (R-Waterford, West Bloomfield) is spearheading a town hall meeting on these products on June 28 at the Waterford Kettering High School Performing Arts Center, starting at 6:30 p.m. State Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), the sponsor of Senate Bill (SB) 789, which “would create a mechanism for which a drug could be temporarily designated as a scheduled controlled substance,” is also expected to attend the meeting.
Haines, who co-sponsored legislation in the state House of Representatives, House Bill (HB) 5338, which is identical to Jones’ SB 789, said “reducing accessibility to these products is crucial in the fight against this dangerous problem.”
Some local officials aren’t waiting for action in Lansing or Washington D.C. to take action to stamp out the sale of Spice/K2 gas stations, liquor stores, and other retail outlets. Earlier this week, the West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees adopted an emergency ordinance prohibiting the sale of synthetic cannabinoids like Spice and K2. A memo from West Bloomfield Clerk Catherine Shaughnessy and Trustee Howard Rosenberg proposing the ordinance cited the apparent Spice/K2 overdose death of a Bloomfield Township teen over the Memorial Day weekend.
There’s now discussion in Waterford Township about enacting a similar emergency provision to ban the sale of synthetic marijuana in the township.
The public officials cited above, and others, deserve credit for getting the word out on the dangers of these synthetic drugs, which still can be purchased in many businesses in the lakes area.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), Spice has quickly become a popular, legal alternative to marijuana among teenagers and college students. According to the NIDA’s “Monitoring the Future” survey conducted for the first time in 2011, 11.4 percent of high school seniors in the U.S. reported using Spice in the past year, ranking the product as the second most frequently used drug among this same demographic. In addition, poison control centers were flooded with calls related to Spice and K2 in 2011, doubling from the previous year, according to the NIDA.
Because the cannabinoids in Spice have the potential to bind more strongly to nerve receptors than THC, the NIDA states using the drug can lead to a much more powerful and unpredictable effect. Some of the symptoms reported by users include delusions; elevated blood pressure; elevated heart rate; hallucinations; heart palpitations; increased agitation; nausea; pale skin; burned lungs; panic attacks; seizures; vomiting; overdoses; and even death.
Unlike other products that have legitimate uses but are sometimes abused by those looking to get high, we’re not aware of any practical use for Spice, K2, and the like. The incense or potpourri label is utter nonsense: The products are being sold for a reason, and that’s to make money off people looking to get a “legal” buzz.
Given the current easy accessibility of these products and concerns by many that they’re far more dangerous that actual marijuana, we glad to see area officials doing whatever they can to enlighten the public and make it harder to obtain the products.