TARPON SPRINGS – A city ordinance prohibiting the possession, use, provision, sale, advertisement, display, manufacture or distribution of elicit synthetic drugs passed with a vote of 4-0 (City Commissioner Townsend Tarapani was absent) at the Jan. 7 Tarpon Springs Commission meeting.
In a memorandum to Mayor David Archie and the city commissioners, Barbara Templeton, the captain of operations with the Tarpon Springs Police Department, laid out the dangers of synthetic drugs, and specifically their availability in Tarpon Springs.
“The challenge for regulators … is to stay ahead of the new formulas and versions of these drugs that may not be covered by current law,” she wrote.
Synthetic marijuana, often referred to as Spice or K2, is readily available in convenience stores, gas stations and online. According to a study by the University of Michigan, more than one in 10 American high school seniors used synthetic marijuana in the past year. Recently, neurologists at the University of South Florida have linked the use of K2 with strokes in healthy young adults. Some of the most common side effects are agitation, nervousness, rapid heartbeat and paranoia.
Substituted cathinones, known as “bath salts,” model the effects of substances like cocaine and methamphetamine, but include negative side effects such as hallucinations, high blood pressure and combative or violent behavior.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers tracks the calls relating to exposures of various drugs, including synthetic marijuana and bath salts. In 2010, 2,906 calls about K2 and 304 calls about bath salts were made. In 2011, the center received 6,959 calls about exposure to K2 and 6,138 calls about exposure to bath salts. As of April 2012, 2,389 reported calls involved K2 and 1,007 involved bath salts.
In 2010, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported 11,406 emergency department visits involving a synthetic marijuana product.
So far, 43 states have outlawed specific varieties of synthetic marijuana or bath salts, but even slight variations in the chemical composition of these drugs can create similar physical and mental effects while still remaining legal.
“If you decide to approve, the Tarpon Springs Police Department will make a pledge to use this extra tool wisely and effectively to stay one step ahead, to hinder and to prevent individuals who prey on young adults who are the future of our community,” Templeton said during the first reading of the ordinance.
Under the ordinance, minors will be prohibited from entering any business selling or displaying drug paraphernalia.
The fine for possession of synthetic drugs will be $500, although each “package of synthetic drugs” will be regarded as a separate violation.
“I think it’s badly needed and this is a serious epidemic,” said Police Chief Robert Kochen. “If we don’t address it, people are going to get hurt or die.”