Parents, teens, educators, and treatment professionals alike are racing to keep up with the latest designer drug trends. It seems that as soon as one drug is regulated or banned, another appears to take its place. This is a fast-paced and dangerous chase, and traditional methods of research don’t work to identify emerging trends, regardless of how disturbing they may be. Why? Because new drug trends simply move too fast. Longitudinal surveys and point-prevalence studies in Emergency Departments can’t keep up; taking a sample of statistics on a specific day is irrelevant, because the next days will likely bring entirely new crops of drugs.
This month, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) put five chemicals used to make K-2 and Spice (recently popular and legally-sold “fake pot” products) under federal regulation. Although this is an important and necessary step, chemical regulation is not a one-stop solution to the problem. Without a major increase in prevention, education and treatment, K-2 and Spice will simply join “bath salts” as defunct drugs that have paved the way for newer, trendier – and possibly more dangerous – substances.
This unfortunate passing-of-the-torch is currently in progress: a new designer drug, 2 C-E, has arrived on the scene and is already wreaking havoc. Last week in Minnesota, 11 teenagers at a spring break party overdosed on the drug, which they had legally ordered over the internet. One of them, a 19-year-old named Trevor Robinson, died. As was once the case with K-2, Spice, and “bath salts,” the primary concern surrounding this new drug is the painful lack of facts—we simply don’t have enough information to determine its risks. How will 2 C-E interact with other drugs? With alcohol? With a teen’s medication for ADD? Its users have no idea, and that lack of knowledge increases the drug’s potential dangers.
2 C-E, like many of the designer drugs that came before it, is particularly hazardous for young users. It can still be obtained legally, which leads some users to believe that it’s safe. It’s a stimulant and hallucinogen, and it has a slow-onset of action that has an unanticipated effect on new users; they take a certain amount and don’t feel any effect, so they take more. This is the exact process that leads to harmful – even fatal – overdoses such as last week’s tragic incident in Minnesota.
As a culture, we absolutely need to continue increasing our knowledge about 2 C-E, K-2, Spice, “bath salts,” and each and every new drug that comes down the pipeline—it’s this knowledge that prepares us to best address the drug’s effects and help the individuals who are abusing it. This is a race we can’t win, but one we can’t afford to give up. Parents and treatment professionals will never be “faster” than emerging designer drug trends. We will never be able to predict and stamp out the next new drug before it appears in basements and dorm rooms across the country. What we can do is advocate and increase prevention, education and treatment services to change cultural attitudes towards drug use in general. If we can address the widespread root causes of substance abuse, we won’t need to run faster than the drug trends; we will have stopped the race entirely.
Howard P. Meitiner
President and CEO, Phoenix House