Designer drugs increasingly prevalent in Southwest Florida

Bath salts

Bath salts

Even after months of sobriety, some local users of synthetic drugs are calling substance abuse centers saying they're still having psychotic breakdowns.

"We've had more than a couple of phone calls like that," said Emily Castillo, a clinical supervisor at the David Lawrence Center. "We don't really know what some of these long-term effects are."

Designer drugs like synthetic marijuana and bath salts, which are meant to mimic cocaine, are sold in Collier stores to customers looking for a legal high. At a presentation of Drug-Free Collier on Thursday, Castillo said eight out of every 10 children being treated by the David Lawrence Center has tried synthetic marijuana.

"Parents think, 'This is Collier County, it's not Miami,'" she said. "It's a problem locally, definitely."

Over the past few years, lawmakers have changed drug laws with the intent of banning the substances. But Manufacturers respond by altering the chemical makeup of the drugs, effectively skirting the law.

The products are sold in stores in packages labeled as bath salts, plant food or stain remover, under brands like K2, Spice, Jazz or Mr. Nice Guy.

At Thursday's meeting, Collier County sheriff's detectives passed around the room a $12.99 packet of "herbal potpourri" decorated with a drawing of a muscular man smoking something while sitting on a toilet. The packaging said the product was "not for human consumption," although that is exactly what it is for.

Because the substances aren't regulated, each packet can vary in potency, said Dr. Christopher Bartruff, an ER physician with the NCH Healthcare System.

"Generally, you have no idea what you're getting in that package," he said.

Castillo said synthetic marijuana is used more often than bath salts in Collier County.

"Kids seem to be more scared of (bath salts)," she said.

Tests for the substances remain limited at best, usually only able to detect a small number of the most popular strands. That makes the designer drugs popular with people who are expecting to be drug tested, authorities said.

Castillo said Collier officials at one point tested all drug court participants for synthetic marijuana and "from what I understood, almost all of them tested positive for it."

A 15-year-old at the meeting who identified himself only as "Lance" said he first tried synthetic marijuana at 13 or 14.

"They said it was kind of like marijuana and that's what I liked to smoke," he said. But "I felt bad. It wasn't like a good high. There's nothing good that comes from it."

Members of Drug-Free Collier told parents to keep open communication with their children, learn the lingo of today's teens and monitor their social media as ways of stopping synthetic drug use.

But Lance said parents are limited in what they can do, since teenagers are adept in hiding things.

"Mainly, just keep a close eye," he said. "They say don't be overprotective, but I'd say be overprotective."

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