Graduation and prom: Chances for teens to try ’legal highs’?

Posted on behalf of The Bell Law Firm, PLLC on Apr 25, 2012 in Personal Injury

We are nearing the end of the school year, and it is just a matter of weeks before all the prom and graduation party planning comes to fruition. May is a big month for goodbyes as teens move on to the next phase of their lives. Sadly, it is also a big month for goodbyes as teens take unnecessary risks behind the wheel and at social gatherings -- no high school graduation should be remembered for the car, truck or motorcycle accident the night before that left one or more classmates dead.

Drunk driving is a familiar problem. Teens are feeling grown up; they want to sow their wild oats. But wine, beer and liquor have gotten harder to obtain, so kids turn elsewhere for their kicks.

The use of synthetic marijuana doesn't seem to have abated, in spite of the Drug Enforcement Agency's bans on the dangerous chemicals that give the products their kick. In spite of efforts to control the sale and distribution of so-called bath salts, emergency rooms and poison centers continue to report incidents involving teens in serious physical and psychological distress.

Nationwide data shows the number of calls to poison centers about bath salts increasing from 304 in 2010 to 20 times that in 2011. Synthetic marijuana reports more than doubled during the same timeframe.

The bath salts are sold over the counter at convenience stores and specialty shops and over the Internet. The packaging includes a warning that the product is not for human consumption, but the word is out that it's a legal high. Synthetic marijuana, too, is sold as a legal high -- the chemicals used to mimic marijuana highs aren't illegal.

Some of those chemicals have been banned by the DEA, though, to give the Food and Drug Administration time to collect enough data to add the chemicals to the list of controlled substances. The DEA bans expire in September and October -- so, then what?

West Virginia banned the drugs and synthetic marijuana last year, but enforcement has proven difficult. In Congress, one senator has stalled the progress of a bill to ban the harmful chemicals in the bath salts and synthetic marijuana -- he believes such a police action is up to the states. But West Virginia's experience may show that states need the backing of the federal government.

The proposed bill would add the chemicals to the list of substances covered by the Controlled Substances Act. The House approved the measure. It may never make it to the president, though.

Parents, safety advocates and lawmakers alike cannot stress too much how dangerous the drugs can be. Emergency rooms have reported users coming in with kidney failure, psychosis and, for one terrified girl, paralysis. As one U.S. Senator puts it, the drugs are poison. "People are spraying chemicals on a pile of plant clippings, putting that in an envelope and selling it to kids," he said.

The paralysis occurred when the teenager, who had recently graduated from high school, took a "hit" of synthetic marijuana at a hookah bar, a popular local hangout. Within three minutes, she was paralyzed, according to her mother.

She has since recovered, but she recalls the minutes that followed. Her friends wondered aloud about how to dispose of her body if she died. They decided they could throw it in the river. Fortunately, she regained her faculties enough to call her parents.

Once at the hospital, she faced another hurdle: Blood tests revealed no drugs in her systems, so doctors were stymied about how to treat her. They called the nearest poison control center.

That call was just one of the almost 13,000 calls to poison centers about synthetic marijuana and bath salts last year.

Source: USAToday.com, "'Bath salt' poisonings rise as legislative ban tied up," Donna Leinwand Leger, April 12, 2012

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