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SPECIAL REPORT: Synthetic Drugs in CR
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS 2/FOX 28) -- Back in June, the drug enforcement agency performed its largest raid under 'Project Synergy', an ongoing initiative targeting synthetic drugs around the globe. The raid spanned 5 countries, 35 states, and included 11 businesses here in eastern Iowa.
Despite the arrests, and the progress made in those efforts, synthetic drugs continue to be a problem for doctors and police.
Many use it for the euphoric feeling it gives, similar to marijuana, but that's where the similarities end. The effects of the drug are much stronger.
"Hallucinations, having unstable vitals, high blood pressure, high fever, seizures," said Dr. Donald Linder, an emergency room doctor at St. Luke's Hospital.
Linder says the patients aren't always easy to deal with.
"When they're in the emergency room they are fighting...they're screaming, they're hallucinating, and theyre very assaultive, Linder said. Often times we have to use chemical restraints on them.
Hes seen it all when it comes to the effects of synthetic marijuana - commonly known as K2. These days he's seeing it more and more, and the patients are getting younger and younger.
In our teen and early 20 and 30-year-olds, we've seen a big rise in that, Linder said.
In fact, just before our interview with the doctor, a 26-year-old was admitted to the emergency room after overdosing on heroin AND K2. Just two hours after the interview, a 23-year-old was brought into the ER after an overdose. That patient currently has kidney damage and is currently on life support.
There is no antidote, there is no injectable drug that will make this go away, Linder said.
There are some out there on the streets who work hard to make it disappear. We can't show you his face, or tell you his name, but the undercover agent with the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement is in the middle of the fight - and he says it's been a difficult one to win.
It's always fluctuating, the agent said.
There's a constant game of cat and mouse between law enforcement and the shops that sell the drugs. Currently Iowa has laws in place that ban synthetics and their chemical components. However, manufacturers find ways around it, changing the chemical composition of the drugs in an attempt to put them outside of the reach of the law.
If that changes slightly then the laws have to change and try to meet what we're seeing on the street, he says.
The changes manufacturers make are often still close enough to the original illegal formulas, however. The bottom line, that agent says, even if a shop owner says it's legal its probably not.
Chances are slim that you're going to find something that is legal.
Legal or illegal, experts say it's all harmful. Curt Wheeler with the Area Substance Abuse Council says not all users see it the same way.
Somehow the kids believe this is safer, that it's legal, that I won't get in trouble for using it, Wheeler said.
He's says as a result, schools and parents are frequently reaching out for guidance and advice. Wheeler is trying to communicate the message to kids as well.
I believe kids are listening, he says. Are we getting them all? No.
Wheeler says often times it takes tragedy to get teens and even some adults to pay attention. That was the case with David Rozga, the Indianola teen who used K2 and then committed suicide back in 2010.
His death prompted raised more attention to synthetic drugs and prompted state lawmakers to pursue the synthetic drug laws currently in place.
What we'd like to get to is open eyes and talk to people without having that tragedy, Wheeler said.
He says its not a quick fix.
It's a big problem that I think is going to be around for a while cause it's ever-changing, and for some of these people it's a money maker.
Cedar Rapids is trying to stop the problem before it grows any larger. They are currently working on an ordinance that would stop new tobacco and alcohol shops opening up in the city from selling synthetic drugs.