Most of the 50 people attending Wednesday night’s program on “21st Century Street Drugs” came away with deepened concern and a growing feeling of helplessness. While solutions are elusive, the featured speaker said that effective public education holds the best hope of reversing a trend that treatment specialists have described as an “epidemic” in Potter County. In the meantime, society needs to come to grips with the exploding popularity of a particularly dangerous class of drugs being circulated across northcentral Pennsylvania. Deaths, permanent mental disorders and risky – downright bizarre – behavior, especially among teenagers and young adults, has been attributed to the use of the readily available, largely synthetic, substances often referred to as bath salts, herbal incense and a variety of contrived marketing names.
“Folks, we have a major problem,” said Dustye L. Sheffer, BA, from Pyramid Health Care Inc. She offered an overview of the latest trends in street drugs that are sometimes sold openly in convenience stores, gas stations and “head shops” across Pennsylvania, as well as the internet. Individuals with addictions too often turn to whatever substances are available, regardless of the level of risk. Manufacturers and dealers have responded to growing market demand by finding inventive ways to skirt federal and state laws — altering their chemical compounds and shifting marketing strategies, or pulling their products from the shelves and infiltrating the traditional undergrounds narcotics trade. Addicts have sought out products manufactured and produced in China and India, marketed under deceptive descriptions such as stain remover, plant food, glass cleaner, air freshener, carpet fragrance, massage powder, gourmet energy cookies and more.
The products are snorted, smoked, or injected, which has resulted in deadly or life-threatening situations. Side effects include irritability, delusional paranoia, aggression and psychotic behavior, accelerated heart rate, suicide, hallucinations, seizures, and even death and unexplainable murders. Sheffer said the short- and long-term mental and physical health impacts of ingesting these substances are not known. “There’s no research out there. We really don’t know what we’re dealing with. Whether it’s law enforcement, emergency services or medical care — there are no protocols.”
The lure of high profits has created a worldwide marketplace making the street drugs available to anyone with an internet connection or a neighborhood supplier, Sheffer added. Passing laws prohibiting the products is futile, she said, since suppliers can merely repackage the substance under another brand name and description and continue production. “Addicts and drug dealers are the most creative people on the planet. Somebody who wants to get high is going to find a way and the profits that are being made by selling these products are just obscene.”
Sheffer recommended engaging educators, parents and public health officials to combat the problem. “People need to get their heads out of the sand. Prevention is critically important and we have to deal with this, people. The big thing is community awareness — making sure that people know what’s out there.”
Potter County Human Services and the Potter County Commissioners sponsored Wednesday’s program. Among those attending were state troopers and police from five local departments, Judge Stephen Minor, District Attorney Andy Watson, Public Defender Brent Petrosky, Chief Probation Officer John Moshier, drug treatment and mental health specialists, journalists, emergency medical responders and concerned parents.
Potter County Today is a timely information site courtesy of the Potter County Commissioners. Reprinted with Permission.