Stopping the Rise of Synthetic Drugs

k2 synthetic marijuanaA colleague asked me a question today that got me thinking. It was an important question and it deserved some thought.

She asked me, “How do you suggest we stop the rise of synthetic drug abuse?”

The new synthetic drugs on the market are brutal, indeed. They all too often result in the death of the users or people close to them. There are the drugs like Spice, bath salts, N-Bomb, mephedrone, MDPV, 2C-E, pFBT, Bromo-DragonFLY, Smiles and many others. According to international agencies that monitor these drugs, there are more than two hundred formulas that have been sold as illicit drugs. Their completely unpredictable formulas and absent manufacturing controls makes using one of these drugs one of the riskiest things you can do with your life.

But of course, synthetics are just a small part of the problem. Consider the population group that statistically, are the heaviest drug users. Those are our young adults between 18 and 25. Daily, three million of them use marijuana, more than 50,000 use heroin and another 50,000 use cocaine. Synthetics, while deadly, are not killing as many people as prescription drug abuse.

Every day, thousands more young adults start using drugs for the first time. Nearly 2,500 start using marijuana, more than 1,700 misuse a prescription drug for the first time and 1,200 use cocaine for the first time. Of course there are other drugs used, both daily and for the first time; these are just the leaders.

Add to that overuse or underage use of alcohol which itself can cause overdose deaths.

How do we stop this runaway freight train?

Frankly, I think it will take every possible resource, fully coordinated and determined to succeed. The three main fronts are, obviously, rehabilitation, interdiction (meaning using law enforcement to take drugs off the supply lines) and prevention. To that, I think it is logical to add legislation. I thought I would say a few words about each of these fronts.

Rehabilitation: Rehab must be effective. If you have talked to a lot of people who have been through several rehabs, you have heard stories about treatment program that used questionable methods or had less than ideal supervision of the patients. There are rehabs that work and have the verifiable success rates to prove it. There are rehabs that don’t state a success rate and don’t follow up with the people who complete the program. Families must know how to find the right rehab for their loved one so they must understand what causes addiction and how it can be overcome.

There must be effective rehabilitation available to those who have been incarcerated, too, so they don’t have to return to jail. Instead, they can stay sober and take care of their families and themselves.

And there must be enough beds for people who need help. Right now, there aren’t.

Interdiction: There are plenty of people working very hard on this job. I was just reading about a drug seizure in Arizona in the last few days – 89 pounds of white heroin were seized near Tucson. But I have also heard about budget cuts that make it hard for some anti-drug agents to do their jobs. It’s only one avenue of fighting the drug problem but I believe we must maintain this line of defense.

Prevention: We could have good rehabilitation and good interdiction and still lose the battle. If we don’t teach our young people why they should stay away from drugs and overuse of alcohol, we may have more people who need rehabilitation than we could ever handle. But if prevention starts at a young age and continues right up through college, and if the results of these lessons show that more people choose to be drug-free after they attend the classes or workshops, then we can begin to bring down the numbers.

The other place prevention must happen is in the home. Parents must tackle this subject with their children early and often. To make it work, parents must know what drugs are on the market thoroughly enough that they can explain the risks to their children. And they must set good examples of sobriety for their kids.

Legislation: It has been shown time and time again that changes in laws can cause certain drug abuse statistics to drop. For example, in Florida, the state was able to bring about a reduction in prescription drug abuse and overdose deaths by modifying the laws that permitted “pill mills” to operate. You can read more about that change here:

Changes in laws also resulted in a drop in the domestic production of methamphetamine in some states. Mississippi, for example, passed a law saying that you need a doctor’s prescription to buy cold medication that contains pseudoephedrine, an essential ingredient in making methamphetamine. Meth lab busts have dropped almost to zero in that state. So changes in laws can reduce drug abuse if they are done right.

Those are the big ones. But actually, there are two other ways that drug abuse must be fought.

Our culture should reflect the value of being sober. When our celebrities and star athletes repeatedly go to rehab or jail, this is not a culture of sobriety. Our entertainments should reflect sober values. When they feature heavy drug or alcohol use and often omit any mention of serious consequences, our cultural values erode. Our children and young adults have few figures to respect and learn from.

The last factor I would like to bring up is that of stigma. So many people are afraid to reveal the fact that they are addicted. It may take them years to finally get to the point that they will ask for help. Families are fearful of telling anyone about the problem of a loved one.

Betty Ford faced this fear when she went public about her own addiction treatment that occurred in 1978. By going public, she was able to show that it’s more important to get help, to become yourself again, than it is to keep a secret or worry about what people will think of you. The stigma of seeking rehabilitation for addiction must come down and the only way I know to do that is to educate the public on the causes of addiction and the fact that rehab does work.

Too many fine people, male and female, young and old are lost to addiction. Too many hearts are broken when a loved one loses everything, perhaps even his (or her) life. We can win this battle. But it will take all our efforts and some considerable changes in our values and opinions.