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NOCC seeks to nip substance abuse in the bud



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LOPD Chief Jerry Narsh holds confenscated synthetic drugs. Photo by G. Ouzounian (click for larger version)
April 18, 2012 - The on-going war on drugs has yet another target and it's become a problem in Orion Township.

A townhall meeting on April 24 is planned to address this problem and with the help of Oakland County Sheriff Lieutenant Dan Toth, Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh, 52/3 District Court Judge Julie Nicholson and more, the issue of synthetic marijuana and underage drinking will come to light.

"We plan to discuss the dangers of using either of these two substances and mobilize the community against this stuff," said Orion Township Clerk Penny Shults. "This was needed because we know there are some problems in the community with underage drinking. Narsh has also taken great strides against the (synthetic marijuana.) We know there are punishments when the law is broken and children need to know the consequences of their actions."

The meeting, put together by the North Oakland Community Coalition (NOCC) and their executive director - Julie Brenner - is open to everyone from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on April 23 at the Orion Township Public Library. Brenner said the idea for the meeting is part of their "Parents who host lose the most" campaign which runs annually. The meeting coincides with the graduation parties from the Lake Orion High School seniors which usually begin during this time of year and the sudden surge in synthetic marijuana use, according to Brenner.

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"We're experiencing a problem with these substances and the coalition focuses on decreasing substance abuse," said Brenner. "Based on the different venues we've seen lately, there's a spike in synthetics, though there's also a lot of underage drinking so it's a big deal that we bring attention to these issues."

Synthetic marijuana is essentially marijuana that has been altered at a chemical level but still mimics the effect of the drug. It looks like tobacco or herbs and is usually smoked in a pipe, though the problem with the substance arose when it started affecting people differently. Unlike naturally grown marijuana, the synthetic variety (usually called "K-2," "K-6" or "spice") creates complications including agitation, vomiting, loss of consciousness, rapid heart rate, blood pressure, hallucinations, seizures and more.

According to Narsh, the drug is difficult to outlaw because its manufacturers change it every time a strain is banned.

"They found a way around the law by changing the drug," said Narsh. "This stuff is not something a lot of people know about yet, but my impression, and an impression shared by others in law enforcement, is that these are the drugs of the twenty-first century. There shipments are not interdicted like marijuana or cocaine, they can manufacture it here into more potent stuff, there's no growing or transporting which is where the violence happens - there's just no reason not to for these guys. We need to hear the trends and learn how simple this is to buy because this is devastating stuff.

"We really need to stop for a minute and rethink the drug war we're fighting."

Narsh noted when he testified at the Michigan house and senate, one curiosity was the presence of medical marijuana growers. The woman representing them at the senate hearing was there to throw her support behind the banning of synthetics. Narsh was quick to point out, however, the meeting will not be a debate over which is safer or the pros and cons of either substance.

While the synthetic drug has taken the limelight, Toth was adamant that underage alcohol consumption still remains a large issue - perhaps larger than the spice or K-2. While he remains knowledgeable on the new substances, and acknowledged their danger and status in lawmaking, he stressed the importance of maintaining strict control on alcohol.

"The majority of substance abuse problems relate directly to that substance's accessibility and that is why alcohol is the most commonly abused substance," said Toth. "The synthetic stuff is out of the bag, but we're not overwhelmed though it is an issue. We see this stuff about weekly right now.

"We really want to focus on the idea of alcohol right now. Our young adults are getting outdoors and there's a lot of celebration so what we want to do is raise awareness and educate them about the tragedies associated with substance abuse. Alcohol remains at the top of the list in north Oakland County."

Toth added his belief that those hosting parties this year should assume the responsibility of temporary caregivers and advocated alcohol free parties.

The NOCC is encouraging all to attend the meeting though space is limited. For more information and to register for the meeting, visit northoaklandcoalition.org.

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