Abuse of unregulated synthetic drugs — found on the shelves of some gas stations, convenience stores, and head shops and on the Internet — has been on the rise, particularly among teens and young adults.
“It’s a very experimental population and they’re interested in trying the latest or new thing,” said John Douglas MD, clinical director of Silver Hill Hospital’s Outpatient Opioid Addiction Program, during a meeting of the Wilton Task Force to Reduce Substance Abuse Among Youth on Thursday, March 19.
Dr. Douglas told the group of 16 attendees about the six most common emerging drugs — synthetic cathinones (“bath salts”), piperazine derivatives (“legal ecstasy”), kratom (“Ithang”), methoxetamine (“legal ketamine”), synthetic cannabinoids (“legal marijuana”), and Salvia divinorum (“Salvia”).
Dr. Douglas explained that people who develop drug addictions usually start using drugs in their teen years.
“People who develop addiction usually start in adolescence and it’s usually under social pressure,” he said, “so if you’re able to prevent someone from developing an addiction in adolescence, you can save them a lifetime of misery.”
Synthetic drugs are often derivatives of other drugs whose chemicals have been changed, said Dr. Douglas. Because of their novel chemical structures, they are often not detected in standard urine drug screenings, making them appealing to people who regularly undergo such tests.
One reason the use of synthetic drugs is surging, said Dr. Douglas, is because they are often unregulated by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
Dr. Douglas said the government started noticing there were many new drugs that weren’t being regulated and passed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012.
“With a title like that, you’d think that would have solved the problem, but that’s not what happened,” said Dr. Douglas. “It made some illegal but it left some of them still unregulated.”
Because they are widely available, Dr. Douglas said, people tend to think synthetic drugs are safe.
“When people see things sold on the shelves of stores they go into, they think they must have passed some regulatory standard,” he said, “but really, they’re untested chemicals and we just don’t have the laws active to prevent people from selling them.”