JULIA ROBERTS GOAD
WILLIAMSON - Those who are are the front line of the war on drugs received training in Williamson to help them fight that battle.
The STOP Coalition brought Tim White, Regional Prevention Coordinator for the rehabilitation facility the Prestera Center and Veronica Neal, a flight paramedic with Healthnet Arrow Medical, who spent hours talking to law enforcement, public agency workers, emergency first responders and the public about drug abuse and how to identify and deal with persons using drugs, both legal and illegal.
Both West Virginia and Kentucky lead the nation in prescription drug abuse, and the data presented about prescription drugs bore out that fact.
Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around the clock for a month, White said. Other alarming statistics were: over 70 percent of all prescription drug overdose deaths in WV were caused by opiate painkillers.
Over 471 people in West Virginia died last year reported 15.49 percent of West Virginians aged 18-25 reported the use of non-medical pain relievers in the past year.
“West Virginia has seen an increase of 143% over the past 10 years due to prescription drug overdoses,” White said.
The drugs causing the most deaths are methadone, oxycodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone and morphine.
Forty-three percent of West Virginians who called the Prescription Drug Quitline in 2010 reported obtaining their prescription drugs from friends or families.
“Changing your own behavior to adapt, ignore, struggle or otherwise cope with another person’s substance abuse problem,” White explained. “Some of the behaviors that families, friends and co-workers adopt are called enabling. Unfortunately, enabling actually helps him or her to not deal with the problem.”
White said there is help for drug abusers available.
“Treatment is available within the county and state, doctors/psychiatrists can help with medications to support recovery,” he said. “Therapists can assist those with addictions learn healthy alternative behaviors to recover from their disease.”.
The portion of the training that provided information that was completely new was on synthetic drugs.
White cited a case in which police in Florida this shot and killed a man who was literally biting and swallowing the face of another man. Officers say when they approached the man and called for him to stop the attack and release the victim, the man simply looked at them, growled, and continued biting his victim.
What caused this bizarre behavior was reported to be drugs, a hallucinogenic.
While this behavior is not typical of drug users, more instances of violent and unpredictable behavior are being attributed to a new generation of drugs, known as synthetics.
These new drugs include ¨synthetic cannabis,¨“Kush Cakes,” and “Krocodile.”
One of the synthetics that has been a problem in West Virginia is a substance known as bath salts. The drug was available in retail outlets until it was deemed illegal by legislation.
In 2009 the Poison Control Center had no calls regarding bath salts. In 2010, the state had 303 calls, and as of October 2011 had 5625 calls.
There have been numerous deaths, car accidents, arrests, mental commitments, crimes and Child Protective Services calls due to bath salts in West Virginia.
Bath salts are a stimulant that is highly addictive and more potent than cocaine The drug is a crystallized powder that can be white to brown, with shades in between and even speckled and typically comes in an attractive package about the size of a tea bag. The label says “not for human consumption.” Bath salts are manufactured mainly in China or India.
The active ingredients in bath salts are methylenedioxypyrovalerone or mephedrone, synthetic and addictive-chemicals.
The drug can be injected, smoked, snorted, or mixed with water and drunk.
Because bath salts are relatively new to the drug abuse scene, scientists are still unsure about what their long-term effects might be for those who try to use them recreationally.
The adverse effects of the drug can include suicidal thought, self-mutilation and extreme paranoia. Persons under the influence of bath salts can become violent with little or no warning, Veronica Neal said.
Signs that someone is taking bath salts include jerky body movements, grinding of teeth, euphoria and stimulation that lasts for hours and psychotic behavior for hours to days or longer.
“If a person is thought to be taking bath salts, call 911,” Neal advised.
Another synthetic discussed was synthetic cannabis, commonly called K2 or Spice.
The drug was legal until June of 2011, when it was banned by the DEA.
It is smoked, and looks like marijuana, White said. However, extended use and then an attempt to stop has shown to produce withdrawal symptoms similar to those exhibited with narcotics
Excessive amounts can cause vomiting and excessive agitation, rarely found with regular cannabis.
Synthetic cannabis does not show up in a regular drug screen, and is often available online or at “head shops” or convenience stores.
“Most smokers of synthetic cannabis will not need treatment,”White said. “They can generally sleep it off.”
Other synthetics described by White and Neal that have not yet impacted our area include “cheese,” which is heroin mixed with Tylenol PM, Kush Cakes, brownies baked with melatonin, a natural substance that causes the body to sleep, and Krokodil, pronounced crocodile, a very deadly drug which is manufactured much like methamphetamine, but with codeine instead of pseudoephedrine.
Krokodil users have an average life span of two to three years after the begin taking the drug, and massive infections that lead to gangrene and loss of limbs, White said.
“The dangers of new drugs are that you don’t know what’s in them,” White said. “But addicts are always looking for a new high, and so new drugs are always evolving.”
Josh Murphy, Assistant Director of the STOP Coalition, said the information included at the training was vital.
“We wanted to present this to first responders because they are the ones that will be dealing with this,” Murphy said. “Some of this stuff is legal, and people think it is safe, they are not aware of the dangers.”
Williamson Police Chief David Rockel said the presentation will help his department.
“Now we have the signs to look for,” Rockel told the Daily News. “This is a safety issue for us. It’s here and we have run into it.”