Sgt. Richard Woods with the Pell City Police Department’s Special Operations Unit, said Pell City has not seen as many synthetic drug cases as places like Anniston and Oxford.
“Right now, we’re not seeing a whole lot of synthetics here,” he said. “We’re glad we’re not seeing it because it’s bad stuff.”
Jason Murray, commander of the Talladega County Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, said the task force was vigilant in warning local businesses of the change in laws regarding synthetic substances, such as Spice and K2, in advance of the imposed ban on the substances.
“We actually got a good jump on it,” he said.
While these new designer drugs have been less of a problem in the area compared to others, area law enforcement has kept looking for ways to deal with the growing situation. Murray said that when the synthetic drugs began to show up in gas stations and convenience stores, many people believed the products, packaged as incense or bath salts, were safe because “it must be safe because if not, the government would not allow it to be sold.”
While that thought seems reasonable, the reason it was being allowed to be sold was that it was being labeled “not for human consumption,” which resulted in the Food and Drug Administration having no control over the substances. Each time a substance was banned, the makers of the product would change the chemical makeup, making it legal once again.
That changed when an emergency ban was issued by the DEA in March 2011. The ban stated that any substance that mimicked an illegal drug would be considered a controlled substance. This gave police the authority they needed to remove the synthetic drugs from convenience stores.
Store owners were warned of the upcoming ban, and advised to clear their stores of all drug-mimicking substances. They were also warned that if their stores continued to sell the product after the ban was put into place, store owners would be arrested.
Now access to the dangerous substances has shifted from convenience stores to the Internet.
“It’s still coming into Talladega County,” Murray said. “Most of it is being ordered off the Internet.”
While some synthetics drugs are still making their way into the county, Murray said access to the products has been limited by authorities in the area.
“I don’t know of any store in Talladega County that is selling it,” he said. “I made it plain, ‘if we catch a store owner selling it in Talladega, I’m putting them in jail.’ I’m not going to arrest the clerk, I’m going to arrest the store owner because they are the ones who call the shots. That clerk is just trying to make a living.
“It is harder to get a hold of it here in Talladega County,” he said.
WHAT IS SPICE?
Murray describes the effects of the synthetic drugs such as Spice and K2 like this: “It’s like being on meth and experiencing the psychosis of meth, while motor functions are like that of someone who is drunk.”
Murray described several instances, backed up by videotaped evidence, where users of the synthetic drugs said they heard voices.
“I’ve got a video of a guy that takes two hits (of synthetic marijuana). He’s among friends and they are videotaping him. They’re all laughing at him – he can’t stand, he’s falling all over the place. Everybody’s having a real good time. Then he starts hearing the voices. He begins to argue with the voices and then says, ‘No, it’s not time for them to die. I don’t want to kill them.’ At that point, you could hear a pin drop. That’s when they realized, ‘we better tie this boy up.’”
Murray said that when someone takes synthetic drugs they do not know what they are putting into their bodies.
“You don’t know what you’re taking,” he said. “This stuff is not manufactured by chemists. It’s kind of like meth.”
He said the synthetic drugs are being manufactured with chemicals that are being smuggled in from Third World countries and then sold to companies who package it, label it “not safe for consumption” and distribute it.
WHO IS USING IT?
Woods said that while the products were originally geared at teens, a new set of users has emerged.
“What we’re seeing is that the ones who get caught with it are actually using it to get around their color code urine tests,” he said.
Woods said that those on color code are tested for substances such as marijuana, crack, cocaine and pills, but that testing for synthetics requires a separate test.
“It’s just not incorporated into the testing yet,” he said.
However, if a person on color code is suspected of using the synthetic drugs to avoid a positive test, Woods said a test can be ordered that will determine if the synthetics have been used by that person.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Woods said that anyone who sees or hears about a local store selling the products is encouraged to contact the Pell City Police Department. He said the department’s tip line (205-338-8899) is available around the clock and those providing tips can remain completely anonymous.
“They don’t have to leave a name or number,” he said. “Just call and leave the information, and we’ll take it from there.”
Woods also encourages concerned citizens to call the narcotics department if they would like to talk to an officer about a situation involving the new drugs.
“Most of the people calling us are at a loss,” Murray said, citing concerned family members of those who have become involved with synthetic drugs. He said one troubling aspect of the situation is that many of the young people who are using the substances have no history of prior drug abuse.
The Talladega County Drug Task Force can be contacted by calling 256-480-6511. Tips can be left anonymously day or night.