Legal Issues

The Year in Synthetic Drugs — Spice and Bath Salts

We've heard a lot about the dangers of “Spice” and “Bath Salts” over the past year.  2012 was the Year of the Synthetics, and much ado was made about them.  Just how bad are they, really?  Will they make you eat people's faces?  (No)  Are they safe?  (Maybe, sometimes)  Are they a good idea (Not really).  Here's an article that every addict and recreational drug user needs to read, free of the media hype, and containing balanced information.

To begin with, bath salts—just like Spice and other cannabis spinoffs—are no longer legal. And many of the drugs found in bath salts appear to be addictive. Some carry known health hazards. And, although it was the desire to finesse drug testing that gave a major push to this new class of recreational chemicals, major bath salt ingredients can now be detected in routine urinalysis.

Read more at The Fix

Don’t Decriminalize Marijuana Possession in New Jersey

State lawmakers recently advanced a reckless bill that would make possession of 15 grams of marijuana, or approximately 30 joints, punishable by fines similar to those for driving up to 20 mph over the speed limit. As someone who has long advocated for treatment rather than jail for nonviolent drug offenders, I am concerned this fine is akin to legalizing marijuana.

A “slap on the wrist” approach will only further reinforce the misconception that marijuana is not a gateway to drug addiction. At Sunrise Detox, a large number of patients have admitted marijuana was a gateway drug that helped encourage them to experiment with stronger recreational drugs. Those who think a half-ounce of marijuana is a nominal amount are kidding themselves.

Some members of our state Legislature are being hypocritical: Last year, they advocated for a universal ban of synthetic marijuana because of its deadly effects and gateway drug tendencies. Now, they are telling us marijuana should be decriminalized. Which is it?

This legislation calls for a maximum $500 fine for third and subsequent offenses. The question is, when does treatment enter the picture? A structured penalty system, including early treatment, must be established before considering this law.

Originally featuerd on NJ.com

Proposed New Jersey Law Neglects Need For Increased Drug Abuse Prevention

First time, non-violent drug offenders may soon get a second chance by having their criminal record expunged thanks to New Jersey bill A2829.

New Jersey legislators Jerry Green, Annette Quijano, and Bonnie Watson Coleman are sponsoring a bill to remove the criminal record of first offense, non-violent drug offenders.

According to the statement from the lawmakers, “To qualify for automatic expungement, the person cannot have been convicted of any prior crime or have been adjudged a disorderly person or petty disorderly person on more than two prior occasions; the conviction cannot be for any of the crimes that are ineligible for expungement under subsections b. and c. of N.J.S.2C:52-2; and the person cannot have had a previous criminal conviction expunged regardless of the lapse of time between the prior expungement and the completion of a sentence to special probation.”

While this bill is an important step in handling these cases, we need more to prevent drug offenses.

The efforts of some New Jersey lawmakers to introduce legislation that would automatically expunge the criminal records of first-time, nonviolent drug offenders is a sensible idea that should earn strong bipartisan support.

But in my role as a detoxification expert, my concern is how these individuals end up as drug offenders in the first place. State lawmakers need to know that between 60 and 70 percent of opiate dependents who arrive at Sunrise Detox and other such treatment centers are under 30 years old, don't have full-time jobs, and have committed petty crimes to support their habit.

If we are truly going to reduce the number of drug users in New Jersey, we need to redouble our efforts at prevention. Once individuals have been apprehended, they likely have been drug abusers for years. In many cases, permanent damage has already been done.

Before this legislation is formally introduced, my hope is that state legislators closely examine the drug prevention programs already in place, analyze what other states are doing in the area of prevention, and develop a two-pronged solution.

Originally published on phillyBurbs.com and NorthJersey.com.

Prevention of Drug Crimes is At Least As Important as Management

New Jersey lawmakers are looking closely at the prisons and how they are full of drug offenders these days. Many are considered “low-level” or non-violent offenders.

The efforts of some New Jersey lawmakers to introduce legislation that would automatically expunge the criminal records of first-time, nonviolent drug offenders is a sensible idea that should earn strong bipartisan support.

But in my role as a detoxification expert in New Jersey, my concern is how these individuals end up as drug offenders in the first place.  State lawmakers need to know that between 60 and 70 percent of opiate dependents who arrive at Sunrise Detox and other such treatment centers are under 30 years old, don't have full-time jobs, and have committed petty crimes to support their habit.

If we are truly going to reduce the number of drug users in New Jersey, we need to redouble our efforts at prevention. Once individuals have been apprehended for a drug-related crime (especially the petty crimes under scrutiny now), they likely have been drug abusers for years. In many cases, permanent damage has already been done.

Before this legislation is formally introduced, my hope is that state legislators closely examine the drug prevention programs already in place, analyze what other states are doing in the area of prevention, and develop a two-pronged solution.

States Need More Urgency on Prescription Drug Issues

After several years of delay, administrators have finally launched the New Jersey Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. A writer from the JohnsAddiction web site reached out to me for a comment since I work with Sunrise Detox in New Jersey, and I was honestly surprised the NJPDMP had not already been in use!

I was on the Palm Beach County (Florida) Substance Abuse Committee which assisted getting this act passed in Florida back in 2009. I have been in New Jersey for years now, and I was under the impression that New Jersey had this law active and was enforcing it.

The bottom line is… New Jersey state and local governments need to realize prescription drug abuse in this state is bordering on pandemic! Regardless of which major pharmaceutical company is in your backyard, prescription drug monitoring needs to be enforced according to the law, to assist bringing prescription drug abuse offenders to justice.

No Safe Alcohol Level When Driving

Although a blood alcohol level of .08% is the legal limit for driving in the US, a new study has established that any amount of alcohol in the blood increases the chance for a crash.

According to a study led by David Phillips and Kimberly M. Brewer, of UC San Diego, blood alcohol levels much lower than the legal limit are associated with a greater number of crashes involving incapacitating injury and death.  The results were published in the journal Addiction.

Phillips said that “Accidents are 36.6 percent more severe even when alcohol was barely detectable in a driver's blood.”  The study revealed that even with a BAC of 0.01%, there are 4.33 serious injuries for every non-serious injury, compared with 3.17 for sober drivers.

He went on to say that “Compared with sober drivers, buzzed drivers are more likely to speed, more likely to be improperly seat-belted and more likely to drive the striking vehicle, all of which are associated with greater severity….Up till now, BAC limits have been determined not only by rational considerations and by empirical findings but also by political and cultural factors.  We hope that our study might influence not only U.S. legislators, but also foreign legislators, in providing empirical evidence for lowering the legal BAC even more. Doing so is very likely to reduce incapacitating injuries and to save lives.”

The research was funded by the Marian E. Smith Foundation.

The “Bath Salts” Problem Is Rapidly Getting Worse

It's no news that people want to get high.  The urge to turn off our brains for a while, or do something that just feels good, goes back at least 8,000 years.  We know that because the ancient Sumerians wrote about beer on tablets that have lasted until the present day.  There is every reason to believe that our romance with intoxication goes much farther back than that — probably to the time when one of our hunter-gatherer ancestors first discovered that spoiled fruit could give a guy a buzz.

So it's no surprise that entrepreneurs keep trying to stay ahead of the law by developing and marketing drugs that start off more-or-less legal due to the inability of regulators to keep up with the changes.  The way laws are currently written, if a drug isn't specifically mentioned in a statute it's pretty hard to prosecute someone for possessing it, and even harder to charge anyone who sells it.

Thus, we have “bath salts,” the current entrepreneurial emesis.  Unconcerned with details like clinical trials and the variety of other checks and balances needed to gain approval for mainstream pharmaceuticals, the manufacturers of these designer drugs make them available to a public that is absolutely at their mercy.  At the same time, web sites like “bathsaltsdrug.com” and “bathsaltsreview.com” promote the alleged safety of the drugs as a “public service” (most of them actually designed to provide guidance to outlets that sell them online).

The active ingredients in most bath salts are the chemicals methylone, MDPV, mephedrone and flephedone.  Sometimes referred to as “copy-cat cocaine,” these drugs — all chemically-related — are central nervous system stimulants.  MDPV (Methylenedioxypyrovalerone), after which most of these drugs are modeled, is a modification of pyrovalerone, a drug that was investigated about 50 years ago for use as a weight control medication and to combat fatigue.  It never got to market because of its abuse and addiction potential.  MDPV is known to be several times as potent as methylphenidate (Ritalin), itself a drug with considerable potential for abuse.

Most of the drugs on the market today are analogues (slightly-changed chemical copies) of MDPV.  Thus they share its drawbacks, along with some of their own.  For example, the changes made in their structures to avoid legal issues are untested, and their effects largely unknown.  Furthermore, they are unstable when exposed to air, and often degrade into other compounds with unknown qualities.  Possible reaction with additives, packaging, or with compounds added by users, can create further complications — all problems unlikely to occur with regulated pharmaceuticals.  As a result, what you think you're seeing is not necessarily what you get.

We are beginning to see more and more headlines such as “Report: Bath salts killed Tampa man,” and “America's New Drug Problem: Snorting ‘Bath Salts'.”   We will see more, because problems with users of bath salts are becoming more common.  In one case, in Panama City, Fla., several officers were needed to subdue a man who tore a radar unit out of a police car with his teeth!

Bath salts are used because they promote euphoria, increased energy, sociability, wakefulness, and have some sexual stimulant effects.  On the other hand, adverse effects include (but are not limited to) rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, insomnia, nausea, tooth grinding, headaches, kidney pain, dizziness, agitation, difficulty breathing, and increased body temperature, chills and perspiration.  At least one death was caused when the MDPV analogue methylone caused the brain of a 23-year-old man to swell due to lack of oxygen, and an accompanying high fever that shut down his kidneys and other organs.  The possibility of drug use triggering and exaggerating users' existing physical or mental problems is yet another risk.  Nor is it a small one, as those with such issues are far more likely to resort to self-medication than others.

The solution, if there is a good one, will most likely be found in education combined with laws that are written to close the  loopholes that enable sale and possession of these drugs without fear of prosecution.  The Federal government is investigating the possibility of a nationwide ban on unchecked use of the components involved, which may make pursuit and prosecution of the manufacturers and sellers more practical.  As it is, substance abuse treatment personnel report more mentions of bath salts during intake, indicating use is on the rise.  Actual treatment protocols have yet to be established, however, and there is some question whether users of these “unofficial” drugs will qualify for insurance coverage.

More, as they say, will be revealed.  In the meantime, parents and other interested parties need to be on the lookout for possible drug-related behavior in loved ones, friends, and others they care about.  Until we get some sort of handle on this problem, these drugs — sold in convenience stores, gas stations, head shops and similar outlets — will remain readily available to potential users of all ages.