Synthetic drugs growing concern for East Tennessee parents, lawmakers, law enforcement

2:27 PM, Feb 23, 2012   |    comments
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It was just before Halloween last year.

Best friends Tricia Moore and Stephanie Mitchell were getting ready for a party, when an older friend offered them an alternative to marijuana.

"She called it potpourri, and I was like, I don't know what that is, but OK," Mitchell said.

But within moments of smoking the substance, both 17-year-olds say they knew something was wrong.

"I was freaking out," Mitchell said. "It felt like every inch of my skin was spinning, and it just made my body numb at the joints, and I immediately just freaked out."

Moore was even worse.

"I thought I was going crazy 'cause everything was just kinda wah, wah, wah," she said. "It's like repeating every movement that you do. You can't just blink once, you have to blink a million times, and then you can move your head, you know, and it was crazy."


By the time Moore's father, David, returned home, she was unresponsive, lying in her own vomit, and Mitchell could barely speak.

"Every time I see my daughter, I thank God that she's alive because I really did think that we were going to lose her," David Moore said.

Both girls went to the hospital by ambulance and spent several days there, racking up thousands of dollars in medical bills.

"I've never been so convinced that I was going to die that day," Mitchell said.

That experience was just one of several East Tennessee officials say they've seen more and more of in recent months.

"It is a Trojan drug, if you will, the Trojan horse-type drug, they really don't understand what they're getting into, and so, without directions, without any kind of idea what they're taking, kids are ingesting this, not just kids, adults as well are ingesting this, and the effects are very harmful," Clinton Police Chief Rick Scarbrough said. "Across the state of Tennessee, we've had people commit violent crimes, ranging from self-mutilation to arson to homicide based on these drugs, and again, it creates extreme paranoia in these people and hallucinations, so again, a very, very dangerous drug."

The product is often sold in shiny packages decorated with cartoon characters and featuring candy flavors.

Officials say the product is very clearly aimed at young people.

"Our concern is that kids and adults, the general public, may not know that this is illegal, and perhaps even more importantly, they may not know that it has potentially dangerous side effects, and our concern is we want to make sure that the merchants that may be selling these products know that they are illegal," said Dave Clark, district attorney general for the 7th Judicial District, which covers Anderson County.

Last year, the Tennessee General Assembly banned synthetic marijuana, mostly known as K2, but those making the products soon found a way around the laws.

"Because K2 was made illegal, the manufacturers then changed the name. We've since had K7, K9, K13, we're now up to the K30s, where they are changing the names of the products faster than the laws can be passed," Clark said. "So the legislature has then focused on, well, what are the ingredients of these products that concern us, and therein lies a particular part of the problem because, in addition to changing the name, we're finding that the manufacturers are also changing the chemical composition to try and again circumvent the law."

Now, a new bill, HB2218, is working its way through the legislature. This bill would outlaw any products that have the same type of structure or effect as a controlled substance.

Plus, many local communities are stepping up their efforts to combat the drugs.

Last month, Knoxville police raided four so-called "head shops" accused of selling synthetic marijuana. 

Also, earlier this month city leaders in Crossville passed an ordinance banning bath salts and synthetic marijuana. And the Blount County Commission approved a resolution asking state lawmakers to make the sale of synthetic drugs a felony. It's currently a misdemeanor.

"These products are not going through FDA testing, they're not going through human trials, they're just introduced into our community and to our children's bodies, and then we're finding that people are having bad reactions to them," Clark said.

It was a difficult lesson for the Moore and Mitchell families.

"Mom and dad need to step up and say, you know what, I do know about this stuff, and I do know what it will do to you," David Moore said.

And now that Tricia Moore knows what the product can do, she says she has no plans to ever use it again.

"Not unless I wanted to die," she said. "So, that would be the only way that I would ever touch it again."

Watch a 10News Town Hall Thursday night about the dangers of synthetic drugs, at 7 pm on Channel 10.

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