New year, new drugs

Thursday, August 23, 2007
From left, samples of Ecstasy, heroin and cocaine. Ecstasy is still a popular drug among college students, police say, while a form of heroin in capsules is gaining popularity because it can be bought for as little as $25 a capsule.

The new school year at Southeast Missouri State University brings a more than 20 percent increase in new freshman, a new riverfront facility to campus and, possibly, new drugs designed to appeal to students.

The Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force routinely receives briefings from the Drug Enforcement Administration letting them know what drugs to watch out for.

One controlled susbtance the task force says could appear in the area is something called "cheese," said Mike Alford, of the task force.

"Cheese" is black tar heroin crushed together with over-the-counter sleep aids. The finished product resembles grated Parmesan cheese. Police began seeing it in Dallas in 2005, and users as young as 13 years old have bought and used it, according to a DEA intelligence brief. Known as a "starter heroin" because it can be snorted rather than injected, and because it can be purchased for less than $10 per bag, "cheese" was responsible for the deaths of 21 students in Dallas in 2006, according to the DEA.

The DEA issued warnings to the Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force about cheese several months ago, but law enforcement officals have not yet found any in Cape Girardeau, Alford said. Heroin has been seized by both Jackson and Cape Girardeau police departments, however.

Another drug targeted toward younger users is strawberry methampetamine. Manufacturers lace the drug with pink coloring and add fruit flavoring to remove the bitter taste, according to a news release from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. The flavored drug originated in California and has been reported in Missouri, Nevada, Texas, Arkansas, Washington and Wisconsin.

"This new form of meth has a more user-friendly appearance, if you will. When it is put into this kind of format, younger people may think that it is less harmful," said Dan Dawson, University of Illinois Extension prevention educator, in a prepared statement.

The Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force has yet to see the new form of methamphetamine locally, though they have heard about its presence on the western side of the state, Alford said.

The most prevalent drugs among area college students remain what are known as "party drugs," such as Ecstasy and hallucinogenic mushrooms, said Cape Girardeau police narcotics officer Dan Seger.

According to Alford, a college student was nabbed by Cape Girardeau police last year for selling mushrooms to an undercover officer.

One form of heroin, taken in small capsules called "buttons," has become more popular with college students because it can be bought for as little as $25 per capsule, Seger said.

Another drug growing more popular among younger people is hydroponic marijuana, Seger said. Hydroponic marijuana, which is grown in a way that increases its potency, can fetch as much as several thousand dollars per pound, so it can be quite a temptation for younger dealers, he said.

According to a news release by the DEA, 25 people were charged early August in Atlanta in a federal indictment in connection with a large number of indoor hydroponic marijuana growing operations.

When it comes to pursuing younger drug users, the task force usually leaves the crackdown on drugs among college students to campus police, Alford said.

College drug rings are difficult to infiltrate because police don't have undercover officers believable enough to work in that young an age group, Seger said. The use of confidential informants is one of the few recourses law enforcement has when it comes to younger drug users, he said.

The university's Department of Public Safety Did not return three telephone messages seeking comment about how it polices drug use on the campus.

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