Synthetic substance abuse on the rise; officials concerned.

May 13, 2015
From left: Dr. Kohx; MSP Det. Sgt. Johnson; SPD Chief Don Riley; Sheriff Cole; LPD Chief Barnett; Prosecutor Spaniola.

From left: Dr. Kohx; MSP Det. Sgt. Johnson; SPD Chief Don Riley; Sheriff Cole; LPD Chief Barnett; Prosecutor Spaniola.

darth_vaporBy Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — Local law enforcement and medical officials are becoming concerned with a recent increase in cases involving teenagers and synthetic substances being ingested via e-cigarette vaporizers and they want the public to know. The Mason County Sheriff’s Office hosted a press conference Tuesday morning which included representatives from MCSO, Michigan State Police, Ludington Police Department, Scottville Police Department, SSCENT (State, Sheriff’s, Chief’s Enforcement of Narcotics Team), Mason County Prosecutor’s Office and Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital.

Initiating the press conference were four recent events in which teens have been hospitalized.

“It started on March 13 when the sheriff’s office was dispatched to a student having a convulsion on a Mason County Central school bus,” Sheriff Kim Cole said. “The 16-year-old male was actively seizing.”

Deputies seized a bottle of “Darth Vapor,” a substance that is described as flavored “e-juice” that is used in a vaporizer.

synth_drugsCole said the sheriff’s office also responded to a case in Branch Township on May 9 where a 17-year-old female was “actively seizing.” He said the subject in that case showed similar symptoms as the March 13 case and with two other recent cases.

On April 9, Ludington Police Department was contacted Mark Boone at Ludington Area Schools who stated there was a 16-year-old student who was exhibiting “peculiar” signs and symptoms, according to Ludington Police Chief Mark Barnett. The student was issued an alcohol breathalyzer and the result showed .000. “After questioning the student, we discovered that he had used a vapor product, ‘Darth Vapor,’” Barnett said. “Our investigation also found out that the product belonged to another student.”

On May 5, Scottville Police Department was dispatched to Mason County Central High School for a 15-year-old male student who was seizing. The boy was sent by air ambulance to a Grand Rapids hospital and was placed on breathing assistance equipment. “There is a possibility that he may have ingested it by drinking,” Scottville Police Chief Don Riley said.

Dr. William Kokx of Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital said over the last month there has been a 600 percent increase in synthetic substance-related medical emergencies across the nation.

He said the vaporizer additives are certainly an issue but the main issue is what is mixed in with the additives. This includes a distilled form of marijuana called “wax,” which contains a high concentration of THC. “Wax can be used to smoke by a high temperature and it is 100 times more potent that regular marijuana,” Kokx said. Chemists are also producing a synthetic marijuana known as “spice” or “K2.”

“This is being sold in stores legally,” Kokx said. “Synthesized chemicals can effect the entire brain. We have seen cases where the people have become extremely violent. It causes violence, anger and paranoia. It can lead to seizures and can cause heart attacks. It’s extremely dangerous, more so than ‘wax.’ I’m not saying any are good, but this stuff is really bad.”

Kokx said the local emergency medical services personnel are trained in treating patients who have such responses to the chemicals and 911 should be called.

Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola said the law is very vague about prosecuting those who use synthetic drugs. He said the chemists often change the make-up of the substance to stay ahead of legislation.

Kokx said the e-cigarette itself is a dangerous product, especially among adolescents.

Sheriff Cole said he has written State Rep. Ray Franz to express his concern.

Regarding the local cases, law enforcement isn’t even sure what type of chemicals they are dealing with. Cole said the Darth Vapor product has been sent to the Michigan State Police crime lab in Lansing. Researching on the Internet, information is very vague about the product.

“It appears that Darth Vapor is available in different levels of nicotine,” said Michigan State Police Lt. Andrew Ambrose, commander of SSCENT. Ambrose said it appears that users are smoking and drinking the substance and that SSCENT has seen it in several places.

“Until we know what it is we won’t know what we can or cannot do,” MSP Det. Sgt. David Johnson said. “It is a priority to find out.”

“I think the old saying, ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ is good to remember,” Chief Barnett said.

Sheriff Cole said the main concern of law enforcement at this time is to educate the public, especially those who are responsible for overseeing children, such as parents, educators and coaches.

“It is critical that caretakers warn kids about these dangers,” Cole said.

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