Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

November 5, 2013

Fayette County coroner pursuing synthetic drug ban after death

Jackson Adams
Effingham Daily News

VANDALIA — After a death believed to be the result of complications due to the use of synthetic drugs, one Fayette County official is pushing for a countywide ban on them.

“I would just like to prevent anyone else from dying from this stuff,” said Fayette County Coroner Bruce Bowen.

In a case still under investigation, an approximately 30-year-old Fayette County woman appears to have died on May 7 as a result of complications stemming from the use of synthetic cannabinoids. Bowen declined to release her name at this time due to the ongoing investigation.

Fayette County Sheriff Aaron Lay said a more complete law outlawing synthetic drugs of all brands would help save lives where the state ban on synthetic drugs has only banned K1 and K2. Illinois passed a ban on synthetic drugs in July 2010, which went into effect at the beginning of 2011.

“It’s more readily available than some of them are because to some degree it's legal,” he said of the new products that have not been banned. “The state keeps tinkering with laws and at some point, the counties are going to have to do something about it.”

Bowen said one of the problems synthetic drugs, particularly K1, K2 and other synthetic marijuana products have created for law enforcement has been the difficulty in testing for it in autopsies or drug tests and the drug’s capacity to be cut with other substances makes testing even more difficult.

“The medical community is not ready for it, and they don't know the complete effects of what this stuff does," he said. "Most hospitals can't test for this.”

One representative with the Illinois State Police Southern Illinois Regional Drug Task Force said the ease to create new substances makes it difficult for the state to pass laws against all synthetic drugs.

“We're still finding new chemicals as we send stuff in,” he said. “We're looking to stay ahead of the curve. Whenever we test for it at the lab, the drug is tested against known compounds, so whenever they come out with an unknown compound, the lab has to go through a series of tests. We're constantly behind the curve trying to get these new drugs.”

The undercover state police agent, who wished to remain anonymous, said despite the limited statewide ban, synthetic marijuana still may be sold from some stores.

“It's not as prevalent, but it's still underground,” he said. “It's mostly synthetic marijuana. The bath salts are coming in from an out-of-state source. We've attempted to locate some of the businesses, but they're not openly selling it. It's behind the counter, and they may only sell to people they know.”

The health risks of synthetic marijuana are high.

“I think the biggest thing is if you perceive this as being a safe drug, you couldn't be more wrong,” said Dr. Doug Kabbes, medical director of emergency services at St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital.“This is a plague and, unfortunately, it affects the younger people who think this is a safe alternative and it's not. It's worse.”

Kabbes said before the statewide ban on K1 and K2, St. Anthony's emergency room was seeing one patient a week suffering from side effects in relation to the drug ranging from psychosis, to liver failure, to seizures and even coma.

“It's a horrendously bad drug,” he said. “I know that a few individuals that we've seen were basically psychotic or agitated or comatose. We checked on them a day or two later and they were still in that shape. The long-term problems can be substantial. The psychosis can sometimes not go away.”

Kabbes said he would support local or statewide laws that ban all synthetic cannabinoids and harsh penalties should be delivered to those who sell the substances.

“It's good to see that law enforcement has stepped up,” he said, adding the mandatory sentencing should be in line with other illicit drugs. It's worse than marijuana.”

Bowen said despite the continued difficulties in testing for synthetic cannabinoids and difficulties in arresting or punishing those who traffic the drugs, he wanted to protect younger generations who may try the substances.

“We're kind of walking in an uncovered world here,” he said. “Like I said, if you've got your youths using it and thinking they can buy it over the counter and it can potentially kill them, I think somebody needs to step up to the plate.”

Jackson Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 131, or at jackson.adams@effinghamdailynews.com.