At 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 31, a young man was found lying facedown on Commercial Street, with abrasions on his hands. When emergency responders revived him, he told them he'd taken some "Spice" prior to his collapse.
"Spice," law enforcement officials report, is the next wave of dangerous synthetic mixtures — reminiscent of "bath salts," the extremely toxic substances rapidly and widely abused in Maine and ultimately outlawed by the Maine Legislature.
"Spice" appears to appeal to young people, law enforcement officials noted.
Portland Police Senior Lead Officer Dan Knight, whose area of patrol covers Bayside and also the Old Port, said, "It's a regular thing," when asked if he's had contact with young people under the influence of these chemicals. Knight said he became aware of the situation last fall. "They acted high," he said of "Spice" users.
He said the packages he saw smelled like cloves, and stated, "People are really messed up on it, like they're intoxicated or using drugs."
Portland Police Department's two school resource officers were asked if they'd had much contact with these products. Officer Coreena Behnke works at Portland High School, and she said she's aware that students are smoking it, but she's never caught anyone with it.
Officer Steve Black, Deering High School Resource Officer, said that he received a call from an officer who found a Deering student who was "out of it," because the student smoked some of the product. An officer at the department's front desk said she'd recently taken a call from a very concerned mother, who stated that her son and his friends were smoking the contents of these packages and they were then acting like something was very wrong with them.
Sgt. Kevin Cashman of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency said his agency has had "infrequent contact" with the substances. "We might find it in conjunction with other drugs," he said.
Cashman said the agency fielded calls with other outside agencies in Cumberland County regarding their investigations, and most of the people involved were juveniles. Cashman said, "We're actively keeping up with emerging trends with synthetic cannabinoids, and this is accomplished by keeping in touch with our law enforcement partners in the state, and national agencies as well."
Two specific cannabinoids were made illegal in Maine in July 2012. They come under Schedule Z in the section on drugs of the state legal code.
The chemical components are constantly being changed, as purveyors seek to avoid prosecution, officials note. This is a growing problem in Portland, but it's also a major problem all over the country.
"Spice" mixtures are labeled "not for human consumption" and come in packets bearing numerous names, including K2, Yucatan Fire, Moon Rocks and Orgazmo. Dried, shredded plant materials are the basic ingredients, but they are laced with chemical additives that produce psychoactive or mind-altering effects, law enforcement officials explain.
These synthetic cannabinoids are being sold in head shops to young people who remove the packets' contents and then either smoke, ingest or snort the substances, and are also readily available for purchase over the Internet, according to substance-abuse experts.
The use of "Spice" among young people is second only to marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The users are under the misperception that the products are "natural" and therefore harmless, the institute reports. The chemicals in "Spice" are not easily detected in standard drug tests, which make their use popular with those on probation or parole, the institute reports on its website (http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/emerging-drugs). People are endangering themselves by placing unknown chemicals and toxins into their bodies, the insitute warns.
Negative effects that may be experienced by users include extreme anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations. Poison control centers have reported symptoms such as rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, raised blood pressure and reduced blood supply to the heart. Withdrawal and addiction symptoms may be effects experienced by regular users.
President Barack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 into law. Many of the ingredients in "Spice" products and "bath salts" were added to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
Moody Air Force Base in Georgia issued a notice to members to make them aware that it is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to be caught "using, distributing or possessing" these substances. Dishonorable discharge and/or confinement can be a consequence of violating this law.
A head shop in Portland featured hundreds of glass pipes for smoking marijuana and hashish but didn't have any "Spice" packets visible on the shelves; however, when the salesperson was asked whether the shop stocked any, she quickly pulled out several packets of Orgazmo from underneath the counter.
Orgazmo is a brand that is specifically mentioned in a North Dakota lawsuit, where they are referred to as "street drug alternatives, intended for use as recreational drugs." The Attorney General of North Dakota is pursuing sellers because the items are "misbranded or mislabeled" under the North Dakota Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The packages have no information containing the place of business, manufacturer, packer or distributor of these products. The suit contends that dire health consequences may be experienced because a user having an adverse reaction cannot relay to medical personnel exactly what it is they have taken, which is critical information in determining medical treatment. There is no way to counteract the drug that was taken without the knowledge of what it is. Only the symptoms can be treated, the suit notes.
In Portland, Andrea, who described herself as a young homeless woman in her early twenties, confirmed that "Spice" is making the rounds locally. Asked whether she'd ever used "Spice," she said she'd had some for the first time the prior evening.
"I ran into a wall because I thought someone was chasing me," Andrea said, who preferred not to give her full name.
Andrea said the effects lasted for two hours. When asked if she would use "Spice" again, she replied, "Hell, no! I'm just going to keep smoking marijuana."
Author: Marge Niblock, the Portland Daily Sun
Date: Monday, 04 February 2013
'Spice' Emerges as New Dangerous Drug in Maine