Barrington addresses rise in synthetic drug use
Barrington parents convene at Barrington High School on Sept. 26 for the Community Drug Prevention Coalition's "parent coffees" addressing synthetic drug use among teens. | Michelle LaVigne ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 5, 2012 8:14AM
BARRINGTON — Barrington parents convened at the high school last week to discuss the increasingly prevalent issue of teens and synthetic drugs.
“This is all new, and the protocols are different,” said Linda Lewaniak, director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital. “It’s starting to get out there that this will kill people.”
Lewaniak led the local discussion while the Barrington Community Drug Prevention Coalition coordinated the session.
Barrington recently approved an ordinance that allows police officers to inspect convenience stores and gas stations that are suspected of selling synthetic drugs and ask those merchants to relinquish the products.
“It’s not a persistent problem for us,” said Barrington Police Chief Jerry Libit, adding that the department did find one local merchant who was cooperative and promptly removed the products from his shelves.
Synthetic drugs, officials explained, include chemically manufactured marijuana, bath salts, ecstasy and synthetic cocaine. Lewaniak said that fake marijuana is often marketed as “herbal incense” and is sold in colorful, stylish packages that appeal to teenagers.
“People think it’s a cannabis substitute that’s safe,” Lewaniak said, explaining that synthetic marijuana can cause hallucinations, tremors, loss of consciousness and psychosis.
“These packages are beautiful. They’re so compelling,” said parent Mari Franklin as she took in Lewaniak’s presentation. “You need to discern between what’s in the package and what’s inside.”
Lewaniak also talked about synthetic stimulants, particularly mephedrone, which can be sold under the guise of “bath salts” or “plant fertilizer.” Like synthetic marijuana, these products are sold in stylish packaging and can be purchased at prominent convenience stores, making them appear safe to use.
“Bath salts are a combination of cocaine and ecstasy,” Lewaniak said. “This is a very fast-paced addiction.”
The effects of mephedrone, Lewaniak explained, can be similar to those of synthetic marijuana and include euphoria, sociability and stimulation.
“They’re going to go back to that because the body is going to remember that high,” said Lewaniak.
She added that the effects of mephedrone can be drastically different from the first to second time, and the user can experience paranoia, anxiety, insomnia and psychosis. Lewaniak said that like many drugs, repeated use will result in an elevated tolerance and the user would need more to achieve the desired effect.
“It steals the brain’s ability to have fun,” she said.
Lewaniak said that while alcohol remains the most commonly abused substance among teens, emergency rooms across the country are experiencing a rise in accidental overdoses of synthetic drugs.
Lewaniak said she believes that the use of these drugs will decrease the more kids realize that these products can be deadly.
Liz Nelson, the community health specialist from the Lake County Health Department, explained that the department is helping coordinate these kinds of discussions to make the issue more visible in the community.
“We wanted to have more dialogue with parents,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to be proactive and do what we can to reduce access to it.”
The Barrington Community Drug Prevention Coalition has scheduled additional discussions with area parents at the high school on other teen issues, including parent and child communication (Oct. 24), binge drinking (Nov. 28), and stress and mental health (Dec. 12).