A recent surge in hospitalizations and deaths due to consumption of so called synthetic drugs have authorities doubling their efforts to crack down on the drugs' distribution. The danger of these drugs comes as a surprise to many who were completely unaware of their availability. Synthetic drugs are especially insidious in that their manufacturers are constantly changing their chemical composition so they can dodge the law and continue to be carried online and in convenience stores.
The drugs are commonly sold under the guise of incense, bath salts, potpourri, jewelry cleaner, or spices., and are clearly labeled "not for human consumption". They are also sold under seemingly harmless names that appeal to younger consumers. Names such as Mr. Smiley, meow meow, or flakka are common.
Because the contents of these drugs are always being changed, it's hard to define exactly what they are. What we do know is that their ingredients are entirely man made. Sometimes a synthetic drug, like synthetic marijuana, is simply man made chemicals sprayed onto a plant material. Drugs like meth and MDMA can also be classified as synthetic, the term "synthetic drugs" is used to refer to the drugs sold under the guise of being household items.
The popularity of synthetic drugs began around 2009, when authorities began noticing surging consumption among teenagers and young adults in the U.S. Teenagers are by far the biggest consumers of the drugs, particularly among 12 to 17 year olds.
Access to the drugs are easy for this group because of their availability for purchase at convenience stores, gas stations, smoke shops, and even online. Synthetic drugs manage to stay legal by constantly altering their chemical contents, so that if a compound is banned by the government, drug makers will simply substitute that compound with something else.
Also, adding the label "not for human consumption" to the products enables them to stay legal. The manufacturers of synthetic drugs are able to make big profits by marketing the drugs as harmless household products. This makes it possible for them to continue to make the drugs available to a large segment of the population.
In addition to being able to skirt the law, synthetic drugs have officials worried about the deadly results that often come with consuming the drugs. The long term effects of these drugs are unknown due to the complicated and ever changing compounds that are used to manufacture them.
Synthetic drugs also have an unpredictable effect on human health and behavior, often causing its consumers to harm themselves or others. The drugs are especially dangerous because they combine paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, and aggressive behavior that normally only come from taking drugs individually into a single, powerful dose.
There have been numerous arrests, injuries, assaults, and deaths reported across the country due to the consumption of synthetic drugs. Many drug users are left with health problems, such as stroke, brain damage, and seizures.
Drug officials believe that the majority of synthetic drugs are manufactured overseas, in countries like China, and then shipped out to ports in the Americas and Europe for distribution. Officials have also discovered synthetic drug manufacturing hubs scattered across the U.S.
It is not clear if organized crime rings or other groups control sales of the drugs here in the U.S. but officials do know that sellers of the drug are making a huge profit. Working with international allies and educating the public about the dangers of using synthetic drugs will hopefully reduce its consumption and the deadly effects that it brings.