Over the past few years there has been a growing discourse among the general public regarding synthetic drug usage in this country. What was once considered a novelty and written off as nothing serious, has slowly become a burgeoning epidemic across the nation. Even with all of the media coverage there is still some confusion as to what synthetic drugs are and just how serious of a public health problem they can pose, in particular the increasing amount of synthetic opiates that are available for purchase over the Internet. The introduction of the digital age has allowed for the widespread production and consumption of these new illicit substances, and has greatly stifled law enforcement's ability to police such substances. So let’s take a look at what synthetic drugs are, what categories they fall into, and what public health ramifications they are causing.
What is a Synthetic Drug?
A synthetic drug is one that is created using man-made chemicals rather than natural ingredients, and often times they are created to produce similar effects as illicit drugs without the legal implications. Synthetic drugs are nothing new, drugs like LSD, Ecstasy, and GHB have been synthesized for decades now, but this new wave of synthetic drugs that are sweeping the nation differ greatly from their predecessors. Where as LSD, Ecstasy, and other synthetic drugs of the past were created in laboratory settings for actual medical purposes, many of these new synthetic drugs that are being released to American markets are created for the sole purpose of skirting laws, in attempts to produce similar, if not increasingly stronger highs. This produces conditions where there is little to no understanding of how the synthetic drugs that are being consumed will affect the users. Granted any illicit drug has its side effects on the person taking it, but with these new synthetic drugs, there is an increased risk, due to the reason for their creation in the first place.
Categories of Synthetic Drugs
Just as with regular illicit drugs, synthetic drugs have a number of different categories that they can fall into, depending on their chemical make-up and the effect produced. Some of these are:
Cathinones are probably the most well known form of synthetic drug today due to the various news stories associated to their usage, and the strange behavior attributed to people under the influence of this drug. Cathinones were created to mimic the effects of amphetamines but the chemicals were changed in such a way that they were initially legal to sell and own. Among the most popular cathinones are Flakka and Bath Salts. Bath Salts were introduced to the market first and they were known to produce zombie like behavior, where the user appeared to have a complete break from reality, totally unaware of their surroundings. This drug has been attributed to numerous deaths and was seen as a huge public health issue during the height of its usage. Due to the danger of this drug the Federal Government intervened in 2012 and signed into law the Synthetic Drug Abuse Act of 2012, which outlawed cannabinoids and cathinones. This resulted in the creation of Flakka, which for a time was legal because the main ingredient of this substance, alpha-PVP, was not initially illegal. Flakka produced similar, if not worse effects than bath salts, resulting in numerous deaths, hospital visits, and jail sentences.
Cannabinoids are where the new synthetic drug culture really got its start. Spice and K2 were among the first cannabinoids introduced to the United States, and they were essentially legal marijuana substitutes. While initially cannabinoids were thought to be a safer, non-addictive substitute to marijuana, it was later discovered that through continual usage, addiction was not only possible, but was likely. Users of any of the cannabinoid level of synthetic drug expressed that they experienced a number of withdrawal symptoms, ranging from hallucinations to suicidal behavior, when usage was discontinued.
It is hard to exactly categorise synthetic opioids because Oxycontin, is a semi-synthetic opioid, but rests outside of the scope of synthetics as discussed here, and drugs like Kratom, which is usually lumped into the same category as synthetic drugs, is actually an organic plant based substance. Both of these substances however, especially oxycontin and its derivatives, are adding to the growing opiate epidemic that we have in the country, which has seen millions of lives ruined over the past decade. While stricter drug enforcement policies have been placed on prescription opiates, this issue will be one that we as a national will have to continue to contend with for years to come.
One drug that is making headlines similar to its cannabinoid and cathinone cousins is Krokodil, a codeine derivative that results in a chemical composition known as desomorphine. Desomorphine is a derivative of morphine and produces the same effects as other opiates. This drug is being widely abused in Russia, and its effects are devastating. Due to the way the drug is created, and the fact that there are still many chemical impurities once it is synthesised, people who inject this drug begin to experience necropathy that eats away at their flesh. Many people have experienced such bad necropathy that their bones have actually begun to show from continual injection of this substance. The withdrawal symptoms can last for up to a month and they are so terrible and dangerous that hospitalisation is usually required and in some cases individuals actually have to be sedated in order to deal with the pain.
Contending with the Synthetic Drug Epidemic
The synthetic drug boom that we have seen over the past few years has changed the way that law enforcement has had to think about combatting drug usage. Many of these substances are available on-line and due to the language of drug laws in this country and many others, all the manufacturers have to do is change one chemical component and the drug is no longer illegal. Law enforcement is catching up with ways to combat this problem but at times it can seem like fighting back the tide, as the landscape changes from one moment to the next. The best thing we can do for now is to educate people on the dangers of these drugs and give them the resources necessary in order to deal with the underlying issues that may lead someone to try these drugs in the first place. By continuing to talk about these drugs and shed light on their terrors, we hopefully as a society can help stop their infiltration into our already vast drug counterculture.
Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.