In late March, our household received a mailing from the Rolla Public Schools with our teen sons’ names on the envelope. I immediately opened the envelope to find in it a colorful card, and a pamphlet containing information about synthetic drugs. The card mentioned a meeting on April 30th that would be held at the Rolla Technical Center, to alert the community to what synthetic drugs are and the dangers for those who choose to take them. I told my husband that I would attend, as it would be a good subject for an upcoming blog post.
When I got to Room 134 that evening, there was a panel of seven individuals sitting at the front of the room, facing those of us in the audience. Mr. Phil Cox, the Pastoral Care Director at Phelps County Regional Medical Center(PCRMC) was the moderator for the evening, and he directed questions from the audience to the correct persons on the panel who could provide answers.
Before the question and answer session began, Mr. Jeff Tucker, a panel member, rose and gave a moving talk about his family’s unfortunate experience with synthetic drugs. Mr. Tucker is the Director of Occupational Medicine and Outpatient Therapy Services for Mercy Health System in Springfield, MO. He and his wife, one early morning last May, were awakened by their doorbell ringing. At the door were two police officers who asked to come in. The Tucker’s let them in and in the family’s living room the heartbreaking news no parent ever wants to hear was delivered: their 19 year old son, Joshua, was dead. He had been found lying down on Highway 65 and a car had struck him. The Tuckers were obviously distraught by this devastating news but also had a lot of questions. Their son had told them of his evening’s plans, he had driven his car to meet with two other friends, all of them home for the summer from college. They were going to hang out and then he’d return, that’s what he had told his parents. The police said no car was on the side of the road and they left, promising to search for Joshua’s car. The next day the mystery was solved when one of the young men who was with Joshua the night before came to the Tucker’s home and asked to speak to them. He explained that one of the friend’s, who attends college in the St. Louis area, had brought a joint with him and the three boys had decided to smoke it. By the way Joshua was inhaling deeply and coughing a lot, the friend didn’t think Joshua had ever smoked before and they soon found out that the drug wasn’t marijuana but a synthetic compound. It made Joshua become psychotic and his friends lost control of trying to keep Joshua from harming himself-he ran out onto Highway 65, at first dancing around before he laid down and was hit by a car. Due to the nature of Joshua’s death, the coroner at first assumed it was a suicide. The Tucker’s knew this wasn’t the case and explained that their son had a summer internship job in Springfield, that he had a lot of friends, that he was a happy individual. From the other boy’s information, Mr. Tucker told the coroner that it was the synthetic drug that killed their son and then the family learned from the coroner that on many drug tests, synthetic drugs don’t appear, due to the chemical compounds that they are made from, and that the makers of synthetic drugs often change the chemical compounds in order to make new drug tests unable to detect them.
Mrs. Cindy Butler, a RN with a lot of experience dealing with drug overdose patients spoke of the psychotic dangers and real health risks associated with synthetic drugs. She said often, the patients are dumped in the ER and whoever has dumped the patient drives off in a hurry and the staff has to deal with a patient off on a psychotic-induced “trip” and they can’t answer basic questions: who they are, where they’re from, what drugs they’ve been taking, etc. She said the patients can be very violent, and the effects of synthetic drugs lead to very rapid heart rates, extremely high blood pressures(that are often at levels that can lead to strokes), and seizures that are hard to stop. One young man they had to work on ended up with brain damage due to the seizures the drug caused him to have, and it also damaged his kidneys so now that young man is on dialysis for the rest of his life.
Officer Luke Kearse, of the Rolla Police Department, discussed how synthetic drugs are made and marketed and sold. He did say that some area businesses who had been selling synthetic drugs had stopped and a few others were part of an ongoing investigation. Synthetic drugs go by names such as “Spice”, “K2”, “Incense”, “Go-Go”, “Pump It”, “Diablo”, “Primo”, “Head Trip”, and “Snax” which included a picture of cartoon dog Scooby Doo on it’s package. He said sellers also sell the drugs online or out of their homes, and many are using hotel bathrooms to make the synthetic drugs. 2011 is when the area police departments began seeing synthetic drugs hit the Rolla area.
Mr. Michael Sass spoke, a former synthetic drug user. He shared the ill effects that the drugs have had on his physical health, his mental health, and how the drug abuse destroyed his family and friendships.
Mr. Jamie Myers, Executive Director of Prevention Consultants of Missouri and a licensed Professional Counselor, and a Missouri Advanced Certified Substance Abuse Prevention Professional spoke. To the basic question of what can parents do, he exhorted parents of teens to sit down with them and share the fears and concerns they have about drug abuse. Listen to your teen’s response. Find out who their friends are. If you suspect your teen is abusing drugs, contact all of their friends’ parents and tell them about your concerns because chances are those friends are also abusing drugs. Set down consequences with your teen. If they promise to stop abusing drugs and then fall back into using them, you need to know what your next steps will be. Seek professional medical and counseling help if the rules are being ignored. Explain to younger children that the only drugs they should ever take are ones that a medical doctor has prescribed for a specific illness that they need to be cured from.
I did go home and discuss all that I had learned at this meeting with my teen sons and husband. I was also very glad that this meeting was held for the Rolla community and I want to say thank you to Phelps County Advocacy Network, who sponsored it and for the Rolla Public Schools for advertising it with the letter that was mailed to our home.