At Friday night's live TV forum on synthetic drugs at Kingsport Town Center, Daniel Dover of Johnson City told WKPT's Jim Bailey he almost died after taking bath salts.
KINGSPORT — Judges, health care professionals, law enforcement leaders and elected officials attempted to throw a spotlight on the harmful effects of over-the-counter synthetic drugs during a live forum televised by WKPT-TV Friday night.
State Rep. Tony Shipley, who hosted the event at his Kingsport Town Center office, is sponsoring legislation to create new felonies for manufacturing, distributing and selling synthetic drugs, also known as “Spice,” “K-2” and “bath salts.”
“If the parents get involved, we can help them. ... If they don’t, they have got a problem,” Shipley, R-Kingsport, said of dealing with synthetic drugs currently sold in area specialty shops.
Kingsport Police Department Community Relations Officer Tom Patton said parents don’t know much about the issue.
“The comments I’m getting when I’m doing presentations to groups of parents is ‘I had no idea what this was,’” Patton said.
Synthetic marijuana, Patton explained, starts as dried plant material but is sprayed with chemicals designed to mimic marijuana.
“But it’s 10 times more potent than the THC that’s in marijuana,” Patton added. “Bath salts is a powder, as bad as synthetic marijuana or worse. It creates paranoia and seizures.”
Mickey Spivey, medical director of the emergency room at Indian Path Medical Center, admitted the health care community was “taken by surprise” by synthetic drugs.
“Prior to last year, we had never heard of K-2, bath salts or Spice,” Spivey said. “When we first saw some of these people (on synthetic drugs), and still today, we didn’t know what was going on. ... Unfortunately, these bad reactions are not predictable. ... One use they may be fine. Second use, they may not be the same way. Unpredictability of the substance is something that creates tremendous risk for the user.”
The drugs’ effect, said Spivey, is similar to amphetamines and cocaine, and creates a “very agitated, wild, confused, delusional” patient.
“The first thing we do is secure their environment so they won’t harm themselves,” Spivey said when asked about treatment options.
Terry Borel, medical director at Johnson City’s Woodridge Hospital, said synthetic drug patients seen at an emergency room usually have no realization there is something wrong. “We frequently have had to put them in restraints after arrival at Woodridge. ... These drugs have a very dangerous potential,” Borel said.
Kingsport’s city government has attempted to take on synthetic drug shop owners by passing an ordinance making sales a misdemeanor offense.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s a start to make the citizens aware. It’s a way to open up the doors to education,” Kingsport Vice Mayor Tom Parham said.
In response, shop owners are challenging the ordinance in a federal lawsuit against the city.
But Sullivan County General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Mark Toohey suggested the shop owners may have to deal with other legal challenges of their own. “They better get their wallets ready,” Toohey warned the shop owners.
Ray Conkin, another Sullivan County General Sessions Court judge, said new groups of people are coming through the legal system because of synthetic drugs.
“We’re seeing families coming in with children, and they are losing them. And we’re seeing children with parents who are hooked on (synthetic drugs),” Conkin said.
Shipley pointed out teens see the synthetic drug products on a shelf and assume they are legal.
One young user, Daniel Dover of Johnson City, said he was hospitalized after taking bath salts.
“They told me I could mix it with a 32-ounce cup of water and it would give me some energy. ... I had to have brain surgery. ... I almost died,” Dover said of his experience.
Shipley’s legislation, said Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus, addresses the effect synthetic drugs have on people rather than the drugs’ chemical composition.
“Makers changing the chemical composition ties our hands in making cases,” Staubus explained. “We want the crime to be defined by the effects of the drugs. ... (Shipley’s bill) will give us the tool to prosecute these cases.”