Drug agents: So-called designer drugs perhaps more dangerous

Friday, October 12, 2012
Synthetic marijuana is displayed at a presentation by the SEMO Drug Task Force Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 at Jackson Middle School. (Fred Lynch)

According to task force agent Mike Alford, few things are more frustrating for police officers -- especially those assigned to the Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force -- than having their hands tied when they know that a narcotics-related problem exists.

When it came to the designer drugs, that's the way it was in Missouri for several years as synthetic drugs such as "bath salts" and synthetic marijuana sat untroubled on shelves across the state, waiting in sugar-sized packets to be bought by almost anyone looking for a legal high.

"It was very humbling for us as police officers to tell people we can't do anything about it," Alford told a group of parents, students and educators Thursday night.

Alford, with his 15 years experience in battling the region's drug problem, was the main speaker at Jackson Middle School in a panel presentation that included comments from various local law enforcement and task force officers.

Alford told those in attendance that the hands of the task force, supervised by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, were unbound when it comes to designer drugs by lawmakers, who prohibited the sale of synthetic marijuana and "bath salts," the latter marketed as household products but in reality made of dangerous chemicals that can be eaten, snorted or injected.

Examples of substances known as "bath salts" are displayed at a presentation by the SEMO Drug Task Force Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 at Jackson Middle School. (Fred Lynch)

On Thursday, Alford reported to the group that bath salts, which is made to mirror the effects of methamphetamine and cocaine, can no longer be found in stores in Cape Girardeau County. But he said he has no doubt designer drugs are still in high schools.

His advice on Thursday was to avoid the drugs.

"You can buy bleach over the counter, too, but that don't mean you want to drink it," Alford said.

Still, some looking for an easily attainable (Alford said bath salts can still be bought in Southern Illinois) and affordable (they come as cheap as $25) high will put anything in their bodies in any combination to get it.

For example, methamphetamine and bath salts are horrible drugs, individually, Alford said. He knows of some who have gone to mixing them together.

"And they are frying," Alford said.

The panel discussion, titled "Synthetic Drugs: What Every Parent Should Know," was sponsored by the Jackson School District, Southeast Missouri Youth Substance Prevention Coalition and THRIVE (Teach, Hope, Reach, Involve, Value, Encourage). According to released materials, poison centers in 2011 responded to more than 13,000 calls related to synthetic marijuana and bath salts.

Those in attendance paid close attention as videos of drug reactions and said afterward that the 90-minute discussion was well worth their time.

Molly Brakhane is the 15-year-old daughter of a police officer who attends Jackson High School. She came to the discussion in part on Thursday because her father asked her to.

But the high schooler said she wanted to come, evidenced by the fact she took careful notes.

"I've heard plenty of rumors, although my dad explained to me what the effects are," she said.

When asked if there were drugs in her school, Brakhane said she wasn't aware of any.

"I think they've taken care of that," she said.



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