Area spice use increases

Published 10:54 am Friday, April 17, 2015

Following a statewide trend, local officials say that spice usage has increased throughout Lincoln County.

King’s Daughters Medical Center Chief Regulatory Officer Cathy Bridge reported approximately 15 patients admitted with spice-related symptoms ranging in age from teens to young adults.

Mississippi Department of Health reported that as of April 2 there have been 227 reported emergency room visits from Mississippi hospitals.

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Spice, or synthetic marijuana, products contain unpredictable chemicals in unregulated amounts with more extreme health effects than marijuana. Some of the symptoms the MDH noted association with spice usage are sever agitation, hyper activity, anxiety, racing heartbeat, higher blood pressure, muscle spasms, seizures, tremors, intense hallucinations, psychotic episodes and coma.

“I believe there’s a spike in it because it’s not showing up on drug tests,” Commander of Southwest Mississippi Narcotics Enforcement Unit Tim Vanderslice said.

Vanderslice said that spice is made in many different ways, but usually it involves spraying some type of plant leaves with a chemical spray that is usually found online, letting those leaves dry and smoking it as one would marijuana.

In a press release the MDH described spice as a dangerous blend of herbs and artificial stimulants intended to mimic marijuana. Going by names like K2, Mojo, Skunk, Spice Diamond, Moon Rocks and Yucatan Fire, spice resembles shredded plants or potpourri and is usually labeled “not for human consumption” to avoid regulation.

“You get a chemical high from it,” Vanderslice said. “And a lot of age groups are getting high off of it.”

Vanderslice said due to how the drug is made, it’s hard to police with the current laws in place. Because any number of chemicals can be sprayed on these plants to develop spice, there are many different types of the drug that when tested come back as non-controlled substances and cannot be criminalized.

He said that once a certain chemical does become federally controlled, or illegalized, spice makers switch to a new chemical that isn’t controlled. Vanderslice said there is a federal ban on using chemicals in such a way. However, there isn’t a state ban making it harder to crack down on spice distributors.

When police units find spice products they have to send it to the crime lab and get it tested. If the results show that a federally controlled chemical was used, the person or entity can be prosecuted. If the results come back as a non-controlled chemical, there’s nothing law enforcement can do.

“What are you going to do,” Vanderslice said. “You can’t charge them with anything.”

He urges people to contact their government and let their legislators know that this needs more attention and better regulation.

“We’ve got to come up with some kind of wording to ban it all,” Vanderslice said about the state’s approach to outlawing any form of the drug. “It’s a major problem that we’re going to have to sooner or later ban.”

City and county law enforcement in the area are familiar with the drug. Brookhaven Police Chief Bobby Bell reported about four incidents where people acted as though they were on the drug. He described the behavior as “jumping around and foaming at the mouth.”

“Some are afraid of everything as if something’s out to get them,” Lincoln County Sheriff Steven Rushing said.

He described how spice hallucinations could lead to violent actions.

“If you come in contact with someone who uses it, be wary,” Rushing said. “They can use one kind of the drug, and there’s nothing to it. Then use another kind and things get violent.”

Across the board, reports highlight a majority of teenagers and young adults who see spice as a legal form of marijuana. Vanderslice suggests parents pay more attention to their children to notice signs that could possibly indicate usage.

The Southwest Mississippi Narcotics Enforcement Unit services Lincoln County, Walthall County and Pike County, which include the cities of McComb and Brookhaven. Vanderslice said that if any party is interested in getting a group of people together for an informational session on spice to contact the unit at 601-783-3577.

The Mississippi Department of Health suggests calling 911 if you think someone has used synthetic marijuana, spice and has stopped breathing, collapses or is unresponsive. For those showing signs of spice use such as agitation, paranoia, hyperactivity or tremors, call the Mississippi Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 to determine whether medical help is needed.