Learn More About Why You Should Drug Test for Designer Synthetic Drugs? | Overdose Death Increases Are Fueled by Synthetic Drugs

Designer Synthetic Drugs – sounds almost glamorous or exotic doesn’t it? But, Deadly is a better word to describe them.

What do you know about Designer Synthetic Drugs?

  • Just how dangerous are Designer Synthetic Drugs?
  • What are the facts related to Designer Synthetic Drug Use?
  • What are the recent Designer Synthetic Drugs that are causing the most overdoses and deaths?

Here is a test of your knowledge and some frightening facts.

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What are some of the Unknown Dangers of Synthetic Drug Use?

  • Are you one of the people who thinks “Synthetic Marijuana” or “Fake Weed” is harmless?

Think again. Between March 7, 2018 and April 25, 2018 alone, 4 people died and over a 150 were hospitalized from synthetic marijuana use in just the State of Illinois.  Two of the dead were only in their 20’s.  Additionally, the problem isspreading into Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

The general cause of problems with “synthetic marijuana”/”fake weed” is that it is mis-named, since these products are not plant derivatives like Marijuana but are human-made mind altering substances that can be up to 85% more dangerous than Marijuana.  In this specific 2018 case, the situation was even more serious —the human-made product was laced with rat poison.Most of the hospital cases involved individuals between the ages of 15to 44 years old, and all cases involved severe bleeding that involved coughing up blood, blood in urine, severe bloody nose and/or bleeding gums.

  • If you don’t use drugs, do you think you are safe from exposure to Designer Synthetic Drugs?

Not quite. During the week of June 25, 2018, the Harris County (Houston, TX) Sheriff’s Office issued a warning that Fentanyl laced fliers were being placed on car windshields.  Fentanyl is 50 to 100 time more potent than Morphine. A dose as small as 0.25 milligram can kill a person. Without any obvious signs of contamination on the fliers, individuals who removed the them from their car windows in a specific Houston area were exposed and got sick.  The first woman who reported a problem, removed the flier, got sick as she was driving away, and had to be hospitalized immediately.

  • Do you think prescription use is safe and doesn’t contribute toward what is happening in deaths from Designer Synthetic Drug use?

The statistics aren’t encouraging.  2017 statistics indicated that up to 29% of people prescribed painkillers misused them, became addicted, and doctors were either over-prescribing or not monitoring their use.  Authorities began a crackdown in 2010 on rogue prescribers and the states began prescription drug monitoring programs.  So, then the annual growth rate of deaths involving prescription opioids slowed from 13.4 percent before 2010 to 4.8 percent after.

But, the international drug cartels stepped in to fill the void when individuals who were dependent on prescription drugs and those also “hooked” on any drugs available, looked for all possible alternatives.  Deaths from synthetic opioids and black-market heroin skyrocketed. According to the CDC, the increase in deaths from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, has grown 84.2 percent each yearfrom 2013 to 2016.

Deaths from Designer Synthetic Drugs are caused because many users do not know exactly what drugs they’re buying and using.  These drugs are considered Designer Synthetics, because they are often made in home-based or non-licensed labs or can be a mixture of prescription drugs and illicitly manufactured synthetic drugs.  Often, buyers are unknowingly getting lethal amounts of synthetic opioids, which include not only illicitly manufactured fentanyl, but things like carfentanyl, an animal tranquilizer that has killed a surprising number of people. Someone surely wouldn’t take an animal tranquilizer? – Maybe not knowingly, but the synthetic substances often are cut into heroin and cocaine or pressed into counterfeit pills that users believe are prescription painkillers or other prescription drugs.

  • How Effective Are Emergency Treatments When It Comes to Synthetic Drugs?

First, people experiencing drug overdoses are lucky if they actually get emergency assistance in time to help them.

If they do get emergency help, there are a few options currently available.

NARCAN® and EVZIO® or generic Naloxone prescription medicines used for the treatment of an opioid emergency or a possible opioid overdose, supposedly cost between $20-$40 dollars for a full naloxone kit, which includes everything a person would need to reverse an overdose.  However, your insurance program may charge you more and/or may not cover this item.

Reactions to severe bleeding, like that with the “synthetic marijuana” rat poison incident, can require high doses of Vitamin K daily for up to 6 months in order to heal the victim and can cost them thousands of dollars.

Emergency rooms service providers, of course, use every option they can try to save a victim that insurance may not pay for, assuming a person has insurance.

However,the current warnings and problems indicate that the treatments for Designer Synthetic Drugs may not work with any of the options.

  • Recent studies specifically show that the Designer Synthetic Drugs are proving to be resistant to overdose-reversing substances such as Naloxone.
  • Vitamin K is used to restore blood clotting from severe internal bleeding caused by drug abuse. It may or may not work or work timely.
  • Every day, new illicit drugs are being developed. No one knows what will work on them until the first few overdose cases arise and are studied.

What Are The Facts Related To Designer Synthetic Drug Abuse?

  • The biggest fact to consider is that deaths from Designer Synthetic Drugs are caused because many users do not know exactly what drugs they’re buying and using.
  • Illicit drug users think that an overdose won’t happen to them because they know their dealer or trust wherever they purchased the drugs. Many times, they do not realize that they are purchasing a synthetic substance or even know what is classified as a Designer Synthetic Drug. Sometimes the same dealer buys from alternate sources — so isn’t getting the same quality of drugs each time.
  • The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) March 2018 analysis confirms that recent increases in drug overdose deaths are driven by continued sharp increases in deaths involving synthetic opioids (other than methadone), such as illicitly manufactured Fentanyl.
  • No geographic area has been exempt from the increases in overdoses and deaths.
  • The largest increase in opioid overdose death rates was in males between the ages of 25-44.However, drug usage has increased even for those 15 years old and is spread within all demographics — female, young, old, and ethnic background.
  • As stated earlier, the increase in deaths from synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, has grown 2 percent each yearfrom 2013 to 2016 and is still growing.
  • Psychostimulant death rates increased 33.3% just between 2015 and 2016, and that increase continues beyond 2016. Synthetic Cannabinoids/Marijuana are part of the Psychostimulant drug category.
  • Synthetic Cannabinoids are addictive and people are not able to give them up easily.A 2016 Study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found they were 85% more potent than regular Marijuana.
  • Even when death does not occur, a number of studies show that at least 1 million people were not working solely because of opioid dependency in 2015 alone, and 70% of drug abusers are working and may be a risk for others, including rage expressed against co-workers. The loss of employees and their productivity have cost the US Economy and US Employers billions of dollars each year. Employers also have reported that they are unable to fill jobs because people cannot pass drug tests.

What Are Some of the Recent Designer Synthetic Drugs?

NOTE:  Special assays must be either used to test separately or included in any multi-drug testing device to test for the following drugs.

  • Fentanyl (synthetic opioid)

Fentanyl has become one of the most dangerous drugs currently being used illicitly. It was originally intended to be used to treat patients with severe pain, or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat people with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to opiates.  It is so potent, the FDA reported in April 2012 that young children had died or become seriously ill from accidentalexposure to a fentanyl skin patch.  Now illicitly manufactured Fentanyl is contributing to so many deaths because it is being included in multi-drug formats, without the user’s knowledge.

  • Tramadol (synthetic opioid)

Tramadol was developed with the intention of providing a less addictive alternative to the standard opiates for pain relief.  When abused recreationally, the drug can create an almost immediate sense of euphoria that’s often been compared to a morphine high. When used orally as prescribed, the effect metabolizes at a slower pace.  Abusers generally crush and snort Tramadol to achieve a quicker effect, and overdose often occurs because more than one tablet is crushed, or the user combines its ingestion with alcohol abuse.  Many bad side effects of abuse occur, including seizures and abnormal, rapid heart rate.

  • Oxycodone (semi-synthetic opioid)

The United States has been the biggest global consumer of Oxycodone.  It is often used recreationally because it produces a euphoric high but spotting the signs of abuse are very hard, and many users consider themselves “occasional” users.  However, crushing and snorting the drug, as well as taking it with alcohol has led to substantial statistics on overdose and death, resulting in drug development companies creating versions that lose their potency and convert to a gummy substance when crushed.  But, abuse has  continued at a high level. 

  • Buprenorphine (semi-synthetic opioid)

Although Buprenorphine was intended as a treatment to help people get off heroin, it has become a popular recreational drug.  It is an inexpensive drug to buy on the street and easier to find than heroin and other opiates.  New users or non-hard-core users like its euphoric high.  Plus, it can be purchased at a lower price than heroin.  Some people use it as a temporary “fix” until they can purchase their drug of choice.  Buprenorphine is less likely to be adulterated, and there is less likelihood for an overdose. 

  • K2/Spice/Synthetic Marijuana

Synthetic Marijuana, often perceived as harmless because of its name, has been causing a notable increase in overdoses and death because of its truly unpredictable chemical components, which are not plant based.  Testing for this drug class generally includes assays for multiple cannabinoid compounds.  See our earlier notes on the dangers.

  • Ketamine (synthetic anesthetic)

Ketamine is an anesthetic developed in 1963 to replace PCP and is currently used in human anesthesia and veterinary medicine, with most of it on the street coming out of the veterinary field. It is snorted or swallowed and is odorless and tasteless.  This means it can be added to beverages without being detected, and it induces amnesia. We mention it here because the drug is sometimes given to unsuspecting victims to perpetrate sexual assaults. It can cause dream-like states and hallucinations, with users report sensations like a pleasant feeling of floating to being separated from their bodies. Long term use causes thinking impairment, loss of verbal memory, and loss of psychological well-being.

  • LSD

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, was a commonly abused hallucinogen in the 1960’s and is commonly referred to as “Acid”.  This drug is one we strongly encourage anyone to stay away from so that they aren’t exposed to N-BOMe/25I (see our note later.) Although it is still available from drug traffickers, it is less popular than other synthetic drugs. It is distributed in small tablets, capsules or gelatin squares known as “window panes”, which are often sold on absorbent paper which is then divided into small squares decorated with designs or cartoon characters. It can be administered orally, intravenously or sublingually (dissolved under the tongue). LSD users may experience severe anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks occur during what are referred to as “bad trips”. Since the drug alters perception, users may engage in dangerous behavior and harm themselves, being unable to differentiate between their imaginations and reality.

  • Other Designer Synthetic Drugs To Watch For

Some other Synthetics exist but tests assays are still in development stages or, in the case of Methadone, assays have been available, but Methadone is considered less deadly. Some to watch out for are listed below.

  • Watch out for this one!!! – N-BOMe/25I. This drug is a synthetic hallucinogenic which is often deceptively sold as LSD or Mescaline, but it is deadlier.   Doses about the size of a few grains of table salt can result in death. It is often sold on soaked blotter paper like LSD, but comes in powder or liquid that might be injected, inhaled, taken under the tongue, or smoked.  It is so dangerous that law enforcement officers are required to wear masks, gloves and glasses when handling the drug to avoid toxic exposure and possible fatalities during drug arrests involving this drug.  The effects of this drug last for up to 12 hours or longer.
  • Molly/MDMA/Ecstasy – The MDMA and Ecstasy assay has been around for quite a few years, but don’t be deceived – street Molly is not generally MDMA.According to the DEA, only 13% of the Molly sold in the U.S. actually contains any MDMA. Molly is sold as a powder or in pill form and is ingested orally or by inhalation. The drug acts as a hallucinogen or stimulant.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, use of Molly or MDMA can cause increased heart rate, heavy sweating, teeth clenching, chills and in some cases, a sharp increase in body temperature that can lead to organ failure and death.
  • Bath Salts – While we are talking about Molly, we should address Bath Salts. Law enforcement sources have reported that Molly capsules may not only NOTbe pure but they may contain harmful synthetic cathinones/Bath Salts. Some people may have assumed that because Bath Salts are a synthetic cathinone, they are related to natural cathinone, a substance found in the Khat plant, chewed in Africa and Arabia for its mild stimulant effect. But, these human-made cathinones/Bath Salts are psychoactive and more dangerous and are snorted, smoked, swallowed, or injected. They are introduced and reintroduced into the market in quick succession to dodge or hinder law enforcement efforts to address their manufacture and sale. Raised heart rate, blood pressure, and chest pain are some other health effects of synthetic cathinones, and people who experience delirium often suffer from dehydration, breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue, and kidney failure, all of which can result in death.  Bath Salts are addictive.
  • Methadone and EDDP– Methadone has been used for decades to help people in heroin and opiate addiction programs by reducing the pain of withdrawal from the drugs and by blocking the euphoric side effects of the drugs.Since Methadone can be addictive if taken improperly, recent testing has focused on testing with an EDDP assay.  EDDP is the metabolite of Methadone, and the assay does not target the lower levels of Methadone used for recovery programs since some people can be fast metabolizers and can be thought to be selling their Methadone instead of using it and then cut off of their recovery program or, conversely, some users might be adding very low levels of Methadone to their urine test to pass, but actually selling the drug for money.

What is the Conclusion on Designer Synthetic Drug Testing?

None of these Designer Synthetic Drugs are glamorous, stylish, or classy.  They may be exotic, but they are “deadly” exotic. The worst part is that the statistics show that they are killing at greater levels, with faster and more deadly speed.  They can leave no time to second-guess the decision to use the drug if a victim gets a dangerous batch.  There is no advance warning sign of deadly danger.

The most proactive we can be to try to develop an Early Warning System is to drug test in jobs, clinics, schools, and other allowable places, in order to detect beginning drug use and discourage it, since the horror stories surrounding Designer Synthetic Drug use in our every day world — like on flyers on cars — is growing and unpredictable.  Plus, since the Designer Synthetic Drugs are cheaper and easier to get — and deadlier, building in some education and regular or random testing for these specialty drugs  in our programs just might discourage the beginning use of those drugs BEFORE someone you care about gets that dangerous batch of drugs that can’t be reversed.