Illinois States Attorney’s Office to Hold Emergency Summit on Synthetic Marijuana

According to Illinois Attorney General, the tragic toll from synthetic drug abuse continues to rise in Illinois. To combat this growing epidemic, Attorney General Madigan is convening an emergency synthetic drug summit on Thursday, November 10th. The goal of this summit is to raise awareness and to strategize ways to protect Illinois communities.

Law enforcement, prosecutors, medical personnel, educators and municipalities will benefit from and are invited to participate. During the summit, experts will share their knowledge and invaluable experience.

The summit will take place on November 10th, from 10:30 a.m – 1:00 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza, 3000 Dirksen Parkway, Springfield.

To register for this summit, please call the Attorney General’s office at 866-376-7215.

Madigan convenes summit to address synthetic drugs

Synthetic drugs such as bath salts, left, and synthetic marijuana sold as incense have become popular because the substances are legal and often undetectable in drug tests, according to the attorney general.

Posted Nov 09, 2011 @ 11:00 PM
Last update Nov 10, 2011 @ 08:23 AM

Synthetic drugs, a burgeoning problem in Illinois, are prompting Attorney General Lisa Madigan to convene an emergency summit today.

Police, medical personnel and parents are among those who will discuss how to eradicate and educate people about the dangers of synthetic marijuana and so-called “bath salts.” The summit will be from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza, 3000 S. Dirksen Parkway.

Synthetic drugs have become popular among teens and early 20-somethings because the substances are legal and often undetectable in drug tests, according to Madigan. However, hospitalizations and calls to poison control centers due to bad reactions are skyrocketing.

“We’re seeing this rash of young people who either smoke fake marijuana or are taking bath salts and are ending up in emergency rooms because the physical reactions they’re having are not what they ever intended,” Madigan said.

Gov. Pat Quinn last year signed into law a measure that banned the sale of a synthetic marijuana substitute known as “K2.” However, similar products are taking its place as manufacturers slightly alter the chemical makeup, the attorney general’s office says.

“One of the biggest problems with this is, if it’s sold in the store, then it’s legal and therefore it’s presumably safe, and that is absolutely not the case with these synthetic drugs,” Madigan said.

Growing epidemic

The number of users hospitalized because of reactions to synthetic drugs has jumped since 2009.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 302 calls to poison centers nationwide in 2010 due to reactions to bath salts. So far this year, there have been 5,625.

Poison centers dealt with 14 bad reactions to synthetic marijuana in 2009. The number jumped to 2,915 last year and 5,741 so far this year.

“They’re very significant physical reactions that are injuring people, and in some cases, these kids are dying,” Madigan said.

Inhaled bath salts can cause hallucinations, extreme anxiety, paranoia and a condition called “excited delirium,” a syndrome characterized by psychosis and agitation frequently associated with combativeness and elevated body temperature.

Most synthetic marijuana, which is smoked, is made of a potpourri-like base that is sprayed with chemicals.

The danger is the variance in potency, even within a single package. Potency ranges from two to more than 500 times stronger than real marijuana, according to the attorney general’s office.

Studies suggest synthetic marijuana can cause acute anxiety, paranoia and psychosis. Recent national reports suggest synthetic marijuana also has triggered cardiovascular problems — mostly heart attacks — in a number of teens.

Long-term effects are unknown because the chemicals are relatively new, Madigan said.

Mother’s warning

Karen Dobner has a warning to share with those at today’s summit: Synthetic marijuana can kill.

The Aurora woman’s son, Max, died after smoking synthetic marijuana and crashing his car into a house in North Aurora earlier this year. The crash happened just days after Max’s 19th birthday.

Dobner later filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the tobacco shop that sold the synthetic drug to her son.

“My main goal is to put a face to this nasty product and what it can do to a family,” Dobner said. “I want to make sure that people understand the industry, and how unique it is. This drug is extremely difficult to test for because they use hundreds of chemicals.”

Dobner said her son never tried illegal drugs and often warned people he knew not to take them.

Then one day this summer, Max and a friend walked into the Cigar Box, formerly at the Westfield Fox Valley Mall. They were there to buy a hookah, a single- or multi-stemmed water pipe.

While in the store, they noticed the packets of synthetic marijuana.

“They had the conversation that it must be safe because it’s legal,” Dobner said. “Kids and adults alike walk away with the impression that because it’s legal, it’s safe. Kids that would not otherwise do drugs might pick this up, which is my son’s case.”

The effects of synthetic marijuana are horrible, Dobner said.

But the one side effect that Dobner finds particularly chilling is the desire to flee.

“Because of my situation, I am contacted daily by people who have had horrible experiences with this drug, and a common denominator is, ‘It was the worst experience of my life, and I understand what Max was going through,’” she said. “They’re lucky to be alive, because they were out of their minds and they had this intense desire to flee.”

A new ‘user’

Part of the appeal is that, unlike marijuana, the synthetic chemicals don’t show up in a urine test. That’s why the synthetic drugs appeal to student-athletes, paroled convicts and people who are routinely drug tested at work, according to the attorney general’s office.

Others wouldn’t take illegal drugs because of potential repercussions and stigma, but might try synthetic marijuana, said Will Taylor, a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“What we’re also concerned about is the user base that we’re seeing,” Taylor said. “It screams out to us the obvious, but there is a user population that might be attracted to it that wouldn’t otherwise be, and there’s a whole other population that knows that this is a way to get around it.”

Synthetic marijuana also appeals to some users because it can be smoked, unlike drugs that have to be injected or snorted, said Special Agent Scott Albrecht.

“It appeals to that younger user base because of that ease of attaining it,” Albrecht said.

***

Poison calls

The American Association of Poison Control Centers recorded the following numbers of calls to poison centers nationwide:

Bath salts

* 2010 – 302

* 2011 – 5,625

Synthetic marijuana

* 2009 – 14

* 2010 – 2,915

* 2011 – 5,741

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