Updated 03/27/2012 04:24 PM
Multiple students suspended in Rome for synthetic drugs
More than a dozen students, all from the same high school, all suspended, for having or using synthetic drugs. Startling numbers that legislators have tried to fight in recent years with attempts to ban the drugs. Our Andrew Sorensen reports on the nationwide problem and the local efforts to try to stop it.
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ROME, N.Y. -- They call it Spice, K2 and Legal Phunk, bath salts and plant food. But people use them as legal synthetic drugs. Senator Charles Schumer wants to ban them all.
"There are drug dealers who make a lot of money poisoning our young people and they used to do it on illegal drugs like crack and cocaine and heroin, but because law enforcement's done a good job and we've clamped down, they come up with new ways," Senator Charles Schumer said of the drugs.
Congress has chased this problem down for years, but experts say the chemicals used change every time a new law is passed. The problem was bad enough at Rome Free Academy that the superintendent called it an epidemic in a letter to parents and cited numerous nasty side effects. The school district says the drugs are too accessible to kids.
It turns out bath salts can be difficult to find because suppliers no longer call them bath salts, or have changed the chemicals, but products like Legal Phunk can be easily found in headshops.
It looks like marijuana, but they call it incense and label it 'Not for human consumption.' But doctors at Rome Memorial say that doesn't stop kids from participating in the ballooning problem.
Dr. Jayesh Sampat of Rome Memorial Hospital said, "They went into respiratory depress and almost respiratory failure, young guy, like 20 plus, you know."
He also noted that many patients present cardiac symptoms and have even had heart attacks after taking the drugs. Often the symptoms are beyond physical maladies.
"People are using them who have no mental health history, and they are presenting as if they are in a mental health crisis," Rome Memorial ER Social Worker Bridget Vinlieshoud said.
Sometimes the mental health issues are so severe that patients are checked into a mental health facility.
To combat the problem, Rome Schools is recommending parents attend an informational meeting at Rome Memorial on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
Senator Schumer's bill to make the products illegal has already passed the house and will soon be up for vote in the Senate.