June 06, 2012 - Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about the dangers of using K2/Spice and similar synthetic intoxicants.
Recent media reports have highlighted the unadvertised and serious negative side effects which can range from confusion to death and worse.
But to what degree has K2 and its closely related cousins found inroads into Oxford?
A local Oxford mother who spoke on condition of anonymity revealed the heartbreaking details about her 17-year old son's eighteen-month addiction to the legal high. Her son has been in and out of various rehabilitation centers, and has seen many counselors, but this mother now knows that her son will not "quit unless he wants to," she said. She lives in fear that "one day I'm gonna wake up and find him dead," the distressed mother said.
Though her son claims that K2 is calming and the aggression associated with the drug only occurs when he's off it, the mother said that it is easy to tell when he's been using, because "he can barely talk . . . he sounds real stupid" when he's on the drug.
In addition to cognitive impairment, she said her son has a "horrible cough . . . like a 90-year old smoker." He has also "lost a lot of friends and is no longer in school," she continued. He got so dependent on K2 that he "couldn't make it through a day," and after a few altercations at the high school and being caught with pipes on school grounds, the teen was no longer welcome.
Now his family is petrified for the youngster, and all familial relationships are strained, the mother said. She knows she can't make him stop, so she has decided to go another route and raise awareness among her neighbors. She has launched a local action group to enlighten parents and users about the harm of K2; to join, write to email@example.com.
First developed by pharmaceutical corporations, K2 is one of the street names for the chemical compounds synthesized to mimic some of the medicinal benefits found in the cannabis sativa plant. These synthetic compounds are sprayed on assorted herbs and leaves, which are then marketed as a safe and natural high that will allow users to evade detection from drug screens.
A call from Nancy Hunger, Emergency Medical Technician with the Oxford Fire Department, tells more of the tale. Hunger recalls several emergency runs made by her paramedics in which victims admitted use of K2. In the last twelve months, Hunger continued, perhaps "three or four" emergencies have been related to K2 Most of these users have been in their late teens or early twenties, and have exhibited symptoms such as "confusion, inability to follow directions, anxiety, respiratory distress, and aggression," Hunger said.
In contrast to assorted citizen reports, official police records don't show much evidence of K2 in Oxford. According to Sgt. Scott Patterson, Oxford township substation commander, the substance is "legal right now, so no list of stores" has been assembled. There have been "no instances" of overdose or abuse of which he is aware. It may be, Patterson continued, "that kids are taking it but just getting lucky."
Checking with local courts reveals similar gaps in official knowledge about the prevalence of K2 in Oxford. "Because the use of K2 is legal at this time we have not received any cases involving the use or misuse of this substance," justices from Rochester Hills 52/3 District Court said. There have been a few defendants, however "who are on probation (and) test positive for K2 substances but the numbers have not been as high as those testing positive for alcohol, marijuana and other illegal drugs."
No cases have been presented to the court regarding improper distribution either, "since at the present time it is not an illegal substance," the court continued. In short, though there may be K2 abuse in Oxford and surrounding areas, the judges concurred with Sgt. Patterson, saying it "is difficult to quantify since we have no actual data/numbers that have been presented to us by any agency or members of the public."
While police and emergency officials struggle to quantify the state of K2 in Oxford, Pat Mansour, owner and operator of the new Smokin' Cheap Tobacco on South Lapeer in Oxford, confirms the rise of the synthetic smokeables. The number has diminished in recent weeks, but Mansour said as many as ten customers per day were asking for K2.
She recounted the stream of patrons, many in their 50s and 60s, who requested the drug. She related an anecdote from an unnamed woman who mourned the recent loss of an Oxford brother who died of an overdose, bleeding from his mouth. Mansour also spoke of a mother who frequented her establishment, seeking the drug for her son.
To all these patrons, Mansour's answer was a definitive "no." She affirms she has never sold any of the synthetic intoxicants, and though she has yet to be asked, would gladly sign a pledge to not sell K2 and related products. She took this position, not because she was approached by law enforcement, or because she has been pressured by a citizen's group to adopt their standards. Rather, she declined to order these products when offered by her supplier because she became aware of the great harm that can be caused. Though there is considerable profit to be made from selling K2, Mansour said, "we don't want those kind of profits. We have kids, too."
Many Oxford-area merchants were of a similar mind. Amber Ellis from Wright's Corner Market in Lakeville said her store "wouldn't carry it." Though many older guys will come in asking for "potpourri" (another name for K2) and the potential for profit is present, White said "we also have to take care of our community." Likewise, Neil Jarbo of the Party Keg on South Lapeer Rd. in Oxford said the profit from K2 sales is simply "not worth it." Not only does Jarbo have to concern himself with making ends meet, he said "we have to make Oxford happy."
Evon Yasso of Leonard's Market in Leonard said "gas stations that are hurting (financially) will sell it to try to stay afloat, but that profit won't make you feel better." Fady Bazzi, owner and operator of the Valero gas station at the corner of Rochester and 34 Mile Roads said selling K2 is "the last thing we'd want to do." Mr. Bazzi ranks public esteem above public cash, and, like Yasso, said "you've got to look at the big picture." We're only "as good as our reputation, so why risk tarnishing our reputation?"
Another Oxford merchant, however, points out an under-reported aspect of this rush to reschedule K2 and intoxicants like it. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the convenience store manager admitted to selling the substance as recently as two months ago. He also removed it from his shelves once new reports detailing the serious side effects began to circulate. Upwards of three customers a day would ask him for it, and so he began to respond to consumer demand.
Though he has no desire to harm the public, he admits that the pressure applied to merchants who sell the legal product is "not fair." He has many customers who will do "one-stop shopping," and yet to ask a business owner to ignore his customers wishes "will take a lot of business away. If it remains legal and neighboring businesses keep selling it, I'll have to," the store manager said. Instead, he would "rather see it totally illegal" so that all have to abide by the same rule.
In response to the recent spate of tragedies associated withe the synthetic intoxicant, alarmed citizen action groups have sprung up throughout Oxford County. For instance, Lake Orion-based North Oakland Community Coalition (NOCC) has just sent a letter to Oxford-area merchants asking them to voluntarily "cease the sale of (K2) or similar . . . products." The Clarkston-based No Spice/K2 Clarkston (NSK2C) has faced the scourge of K2 with a grassroots push as well, calling on merchants to take a pledge not to sell these products. Those who agree to take the pledge can display a sticker in their window, and thus advertise their commitment of support.
L. Brooks Patterson and Sheriff Bouchard have followed suit and have urged all Oakland County retailers to take this pledge of compliance. According to a June 1 press release, "business owners who notify the county that they will not sell (K2) . . . will get a window decal identifying their store as a place to shop safe from these dangerous substances."
Patterson feels that now is the time to act against K2, and he is confident that Oakland County can make "it easy for shoppers to identify the stores that don't sell these dangerous synthetic drugs." Sheriff Bouchard thinks that, until a state law is enacted banning the substances, "the best weapon to fight (K2) is for consumers to refuse to frequent places that sell this trash." Mr. Patterson agreed, and said, "the responsible store owner will respond" to the call to take the pledge.
Currently, SB 1082, a bill to ban K2 and other synthetic intoxicants, is before the Michigan legislators. Until the ban is in place, merchants are being urged to pledge not to sell the dangerous herbal concoction. If you are interested in taking the pledge or joining with like-minded citizens to raise awareness about the effects of K2, please visit NOCC at www.northoaklandcoalition.org. Merchants interested in receiving a decal indicating a K2-free store can call the Oakland County Health Division Nurse on Call at 1-800-848-5533.