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150 People Arrested in Nationwide Synthetic Drug Crackdown

Since July of last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has arrested more than 150 people across 16 states in an operation dedicated to cracking a nationwide synthetic drug trafficking ring.

Called “Project Synergy,” the DEA’s efforts pulled more than $15 million in assets and drug money off the streets, taking a big step in helping to end the problems caused by synthetic drug manufacturing, distribution, use, and addiction.

In recent years, the problems associated with synthetic drug abuse have caused alarm across the country. Issues include:

  • High rates of emergency room visits related to synthetic drug use, especially due to use of bath salts, used alone or in combination with other synthetic substances; marijuana or other drugs; and Molly, a form of ecstasy
  • Ever-changing chemical composition and ingredients in synthetic drugs with no changes to the packaging to indicate these changes, exposing users to a range of medical issues including overdose threat
  • Difficulties in getting dangerous synthetic substances and their makers off the street due to the rapidly changing chemicals in those substances and the time required by law to ban an addictive or dangerous substance
  • Perception by users that synthetic drugs are safe because they are technically legal

Legislative Change

In addition to the ongoing efforts of the DEA to take synthetic drugs off the street and the efforts of local law enforcement to keep synthetic substances illegal, US representatives, in a bipartisan group, are doing their part as well. They have created the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2015, according to Roll Call, which would classify 200 chemical compounds as Schedule I substances – that is, substances that have no medical use, are at high risk for abuse, and likely to cause addiction.

Eleanor Holmes Norton was a co-sponsor of the bill. She said: “These drugs are, in my judgment, more serious than the drugs that are on the Controlled Substance Act, more dangerous. These are right out in the open. They’re disguised in colored wrapping with snappy names to appeal to young people and children in particular. They are cheap. Much cheaper than the dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin. They’re sold everywhere. And drugs that are sold everywhere are presumed to be safe. They are openly marketed as an alternative to dangerous drugs and they have bizarre effects.”

Education and Awareness

Legislative changes and government crackdowns are positive steps and important in helping to avoid unnecessary deaths caused by synthetic drug use and addiction. These changes actively demonstrate to the public just how dangerous synthetic substances are and what a risk it is to experiment with them, alerting concerned friends and family members to the potential hazards that may befall someone they care about if that person is or continues to abuse synthetic drugs.

Dr. Alex Rosenau is the past president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. In a news release, he said: “Unapproved synthetic drugs are destroying lives every day in the USA. With a wink and a nod, they are sold over the counter, claim to give users a good time, then destroy their lives, flood emergency rooms with critically sick kids, and tie up EMS and law enforcement resources.”

Addressing a Synthetic Drug Abuse Problem

Getting help for someone who is struggling with a drug abuse problem can be a quick process or it can take time, depending upon the person’s perspective on the dangers of synthetic drugs and willingness to accept treatment. This process often includes:

  • A casual discussion
    It’s likely that you have had this discussion with your loved one in the past if drug use and abuse has long been an issue, but broaching the topic of the person’s drug use and the risks taken with continued use can help you to gauge where your loved one is in terms of considering drug treatment. If your loved one is defensive or grows angry with the conversation, this is not an uncommon response when chronic drug abuse or addiction is the issue. It does indicate that you may need to put in a little more effort with the goal of helping your loved one to choose treatment.
  • Formal intervention
    If a casual discussion does not end with your loved one choosing to enroll in drug treatment to stop using synthetic – and all illicit – substances, then a formal intervention may be the next step. It’s a relatively simple process: Gather together a few others who are equally concerned about your loved one’s health and wellbeing, enroll that person in a rehabilitation program, and then sit down together to help the person see that treatment is the necessary next step. It may be helpful to enlist the services of a professional interventionist or family mediator, and to take some time to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of staging an intervention.
  • Treatment
    Treatment should be a highly personal experience, made up of interventions and therapies chosen based on the person’s individual needs. These needs will be determined by the person’s experience during active drug use, and the treatment plan should be based upon treatment goals made to meet those needs.
  • Aftercare
    After treatment is over, continued engagement in recovery is recommended. Group therapy sessions, alumni meetings, 12-Step meetings, and ongoing treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders are recommended, whether the drug of choice is a synthetic substance or any other addictive drug.