New Drugs – New Challenges

September 1, 2014

It seems as though new and dangerous drugs are popping up around the country all too often. From bath salts to spice, these drugs have law enforcement and treatment professionals alike scrambling to understand the effects of and treatment options for these sometimes legal substances.

Unfortunately, the first line of defense – the enforcement and development of regulations and laws limiting the use and production of many of these drugs – is simply inadequate. We are often too late in identifying emerging drugs and by the time we do, headlines have gripped the media and a panic ensues. The hysteria lasts for just a short while and everything is forgotten shortly thereafter. For example, bath salts, which made headlines when a Miami man was brutally injured by someone high on the drug contributed to over 23,000 ER visits in 2011 according to SAMHSA – this was well before the attention grabbing headline. Sadly, it took a horrible injury for the public to get a glimpse of the scourge.

Old drugs are being delivered in new ways too. Marketed as a healthier way to smoke, vaping (vaporizing) has become a new and popular delivery method for marijuana as well. Users vaporize hash oil, which can be ingested without smoke or smell. Vaping has, amongst other things, allowed students to bring marijuana into schools undetected. The future effects of vaping are poorly understood and the scope of the problem unknown. A second phenomenon, known as “wax,” a concentrated form of marijuana extracted using butane, is becoming more popular as well. While smoked in a similar way to marijuana, the wax can be formed to resemble lip balm and can easily be hidden from authorities. The biggest concern is the amount of THC (the mind-altering drug in marijuana) that is concentrated in wax. It can deliver exponentially more THC than a regular marijuana cigarette.

So what to do? The best offensive is to step up the detection and awareness of these developments. From there, properly educating the public – without generating hysteria and panic through fantastical headlines – is the next step. This however, requires a cultural shift that places greater emphasis on the understanding of drugs and substance abuse in the United States. With initiatives such as SAMHSA’s upcoming recovery month – events and outreach campaigns held each September – we are making progress – however we have a lot further to go.