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Chief asks action against sale, use of synthetic drugs

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Sold as bath salts, incense enhancers or plant foods, the substances can mimic the effects of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine, but with more unpredictability due to its synthetic chemical compounds. Bowen said the products are mostly sold in convenience stores and are readily displayed and available for purchase by individuals of any age. He said the Internet is bustling with videos of kids ingesting or smoking the products to get high and promoting some as “synthetic marijuana.” Pointing to a study conducted by a lab in Kansas, Bowen indicated synthetic marijuana substances like K2, are three to five times more potent than Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient found in marijuana. “It’s hard for us to believe that any legitimate business or retail store would want to sell this stuff,” Bowen said. The fad of synthetic drugs has been growing for about a year and Bowen said they recently dealt with Molly’s Plant Food, which was also sold in convenience stores and contained a chemical, mephedrone, which was similar to those in cocaine and ecstasy. Like the drugs they mimic, Bowen said the bath salts and “synthetic marijuana” can cause aggressive behavior, make the user become lethargic and unresponsive, or cause loss of life. He said there have been at least three cases of individuals in Lebanon using synthetic drugs in the past several months. One such case was a man who had been taken into custody but passed out and would not wake when they brought him to the Wilson County Jail. Bowen said officers tried numerous methods to get a response from the man but he would not wake up and they had to transport him to University Medical Center. After the man recovered, Bowen said he admitted to using one of the products labeled as a synthetic drug. Another case involved a man becoming aggressive and resisting officers while displaying typical symptoms of having used marijuana. Bowen said a package of these synthetic drugs was found on the man. “Unless they tell you or you find the package, you just don’t know. That’s the scary part is no one really knows what it’s going to do,” Bowen said. Lebanon’s ordinance was drafted by City Attorney Andy Wright, who Bowen said used a similar ordinance from Clarksville as an example. That city passed a ban on synthetic drugs in May that Bowen said, in his talks with authorities in Clarksville, has proved to be beneficial to the community. Bowen also noted the State Legislature recently passed a law that banned certain molecules and substances within these products, but noted that doesn’t go far enough in keeping them out of the hands of young people. He said manufacturers simply change the chemical compounds within the products to a variation of the one that is banned to skirt the law. The ordinance drafted for the City of Lebanon would ban all compounds, and those that mimic the effects of them, to prevent this kind of altering by the manufacturer to “fall into the cracks” as Bowen said. “All we’re trying to do is protect the youth of our community,” he noted. Bowen began researching synthetic drugs after detectives in the department’s narcotics division advised him they were becoming more common in Lebanon. He said many narcotics detectives have heard reports of their use and the past three known cases are further evidence it is a growing problem. Bowen wanted to stress that the department will not go through businesses and immediately confiscate the products if the ordinance is passed by the city council. He said if the ordinance becomes law, they will give businesses plenty of time to adjust. “It’s about education first, we’re going to let the business owners know and make everyone aware,” Bowen said. Some members of the city council expressed concerns about the ordinance’s possible effects on local businesses if the products are outlawed. The council decided to defer the ordinance until they could research the products more. Bowen sent each councilor information about the products, their effects and dangers as well as numerous cases of individuals using them and in some cases, losing their life as a result. “The worst case scenario is someone loses their life because of this,” Bowen said of the synthetic drugs. The ordinance is to be considered by council again on Tuesday, July 5, for first reading and must pass a second reading before it is added into the Lebanon Municipal Code as a law. Bowen said the maximum fine allowable for violators is $50 for each individual offense, whether it is a business or an individual. Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.
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