“Knock Off” Drugs Becoming More Widespread in Southwest Virginia

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Roanoke Police Chief Chris Perkins and other law enforcement officials stand together in support at the press conference.
Roanoke Police Chief Chris Perkins and other law enforcement officials stand together in support at the press conference.

by Beverly Amsler

Summer is around the corner and law enforcement officials and representatives of other prevention groups from around the Roanoke Valley gathered Wednesday to warn parents to be on the lookout for synthetic drugs their children might be exposed to.

With names like “Scooby Doo Snax” and “Amped”, they’re being sold in tobacco and convenience stores.  “You’ve heard of Spice, K2; these are synthetic forms of marijuana,” says Roanoke City Police Chief Chris Perkins.  “Now, we’re finding products that are designed to mimic the effects of other illegal drugs.”  He says they’re referred to as bath salts, potpourri, or other generic names.

The makers of these synthetic products mark the packages with phrases like, ‘Lady Bug Attractant’, ‘Glass Cleaner’, or ‘For Novelty Only’.”  He says some packages are even marked, “Not for Human Consumption” in an effort to disguise their use.

But instead of containing actual glass cleaner, the small packages which sell anywhere from $20-$50, contain a Drano-like product.  Perkins says the high received from these drugs has been compared to the high from methamphetamine and cocaine.

“The reactions range from erratic behavior to hallucinations, causing people to become violent to themselves or others”, says Perkins.  In addition, they can cause high blood pressure, seizures, brain damage, and even death.

City of Salem’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Bowes says there have been four confirmed deaths linked to synthetic bath salts in Western Virginia.  Two of those are from the Roanoke Valley.

Dan Freeman, a nurse with Carilion Clinic Trauma Services says the effects of these drugs can last for hours to days and even weeks.  He’s treated thousands of patients over the past 15 years who have been under the influence of drugs.  “Among the challenging of these cases are those that stem from an unknown chemical substance such as those found in synthetic bath salts and synthetic marijuana.”

Freeman says over the past 18 months, Carilion’s Emergency Department has seen a significant increase in emergencies where synthetic drugs are a suspected cause.

“They often present to the Emergency Department kicking and screaming and hitting the EMTs, nurses, and physicians that are trying to care for them.” Freeman says there’s no antidote for the drugs once they’ve been consumed.  Steve Pfleger with the U. S. Attorney’s Office says this problem started in some of the big cities in Virginia but has now moved to rural areas.  “It’s been happening largely in the Western District in the last few years where we’ve seen an upswing in it and so that’s led to greater education efforts, greater prosecution efforts, and greater efforts just to get people to understand the problem.”

Speaking to adults, Chief Perkins said , “We say, ‘Ask questions, educate yourselves on this topic, contact your local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies, and do your civic duty to help us impact this serious public safety and public health issue’.”