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Why Synthetic Drug Overdoses Are On The Rise In Boise

The new synthetic drugs can be injected, smoked, swallowed, even put on blotter tabs, like LSD.

Jack works undercover, buying drugs from Boise dealers. He is a Boise Police Department detective, and he's seeing a troubling increase in the number of people overdosing on synthetic drugs.

BPD has found that these new man-made chemicals are replacing better known street drugs, like ecstasy or LSD. And officers are worried that users are being duped into taking the more potent synthetics.

“These drugs can, and have proven to kill people," says Jack. Because he works undercover, we’ve changed his name, and his voice, to protect his identity. Jack is worried about the effects of a fairly new class of synthetic drugs.

Jack explains that the synthetics started showing up in Boise in 2010, mostly spice, synthetic cannabinoids, and designer drugs known as bath salts.

Then the new ones came along, 25i and 25c, which are synthetic phenethylamines. 25i or NBOMe is a hallucinogen, often compared to LSD. It can be inhaled, swallowed, injected, or snorted. After that, Jack says, anything can happen.

“The best thing I can tell you is extremely unpredictable, violence, hyperthermia," explains Jack, "where people are getting overheated, elevated heart rates to the point where they’re stripping off clothing and acting extremely erratic.”

The drugs can cause seizures, kidney damage, bleeding in the brain and heart failure. Boise Police detectives report that synthetic drugs are not just dangerous in the short term, there may be long-lasting effects too. But it’s not clear what those may be. The drugs are simply too new, there hasn’t been time for researchers to do long-term studies on the brain or the body.

Jack says drug users know synthetics are dangerous, and don’t usually buy them on purpose. But despite a stigma among users, the drugs are still getting on the streets. "The drug dealers name them something other than what they are. Which is what’s scary for the users.”

Credit Boise Police Department
Boise Police Department
A wide variety of drugs are available on Boise streets, but synthetics are increasing masquerading as better known drugs.

This happens a lot with ecstasy or MDMA. Known on the street as Molly, ecstasy is a party drug used often by young people. But now, Jack says users looking for Molly are being fooled into buying something else.

“We’re seeing methamphetamine, we’re seeing bath salts, and we’re seeing the 25 and 2c drugs," the detective says. "They’re not buying Molly, they’re buying what they think is Molly, but it’s actually a synthetic drug that is extremely harmful to them.”

The detective remembers a case from fall of 2013 involving two teenagers. The 16-year-olds had tried LSD before, but wanted a more intense high this time. So they went to a dealer and bought what they thought was LSD and upped the dosage.

“This time one of them doubled their dose, one of them went four times the dose they had previously taken, thinking it was LSD." But Jack says it wasn't LSD. "It was 25i. It was a synthetic drug that he was selling as LSD, that caused these two young people to nearly lose their lives.”

Both of the teens were hospitalized, one had a seizure and stopped breathing.

Jack says the drugs come from large illegal labs overseas, from countries like China. They’re cheaper, and easier to get then non-synthetics, some dealers buy the drug off the Internet and have it shipped through the mail.

“Mail, FedEX, UPS, literally the items can be ordered off the internet and shipped to an address.”

People are literally taking their lives in their own hands when they choose to use these drugs. - Boise Police Dept. Detective

And sometimes, even the drug dealer is fooled and doesn’t know what he’s selling.

“You just never know what you’re going to get, there’s not quality control, we don’t know who’s making these drugs, you could be taking not only a different drug, but you could be taking a totally completely scaled-up dose than what you think you’re taking."

Jack says education and getting the word out about these new drugs is the best way to combat the problem. He says law enforcement can only go so far. He’s also worried about the future of synthetic drugs, and whatever the next wave of chemicals may bring to the streets of Boise.

"It’s scary all around," he says. "People are literally taking their lives in their own hands when they choose to use these drugs.”

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio

As Senior Producer of our live daily talk show Idaho Matters, I’m able to indulge my love of storytelling and share all kinds of information (I was probably a Town Crier in a past life!). My career has allowed me to learn something new everyday and to share that knowledge with all my friends on the radio.

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