Synthetic drug use is on the rise in Barry County, as local law enforcement officials try to curb the availability of illegal substances that are easily obtained at area convenience stores.
"We conducted a raid at Bar Y convenience store in Exeter," said Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly. "We seized all of their inventory, including pipe bongs, scales and synthetic drugs. One type of substance yielded a positive field test for cocaine."
Youngsters in the area are buying items such as "incense" and "bath salts," which are clearly labeled "not for human consumption," and then ingesting the substances in a variety of ways in order to obtain a high.
"When people go in and ask the clerk how to use a substance and the clerk tells them step by step how to ingest these items, it's illegal," Epperly said.
Side effects of synthetic drug use range from paranoia and hallucinations to violent behaviors and death. Signs of abuse include agitation, excessive sweating, the inability to speak and restlessness.
"These kids don't know what they're putting in their bodies," Epperly said "They don't know what is going to happen, they're just looking to get high."
Epperly said Barry County is seeing an increase in the types of illegal synthetics available to the public.
"We see all across the United States what these drugs have done, and they're moving into the area rapidly," he said. "Convenience stores are marking these products up by 150 to 200 percent, and they're making a killing off the sales. They could be killing kids. It's all about the dollar."
Epperly said the formulas used to manufacture synthetic drugs often change faster than legislation can keep up.
"Our legislators are going to have to figure out a way to make this stuff illegal," Epperly said. "In tests, some of these substances have registered 20 percent prescription medications, most often Percocet, and 20 percent cocaine. Other ingredients found in these items include heroin, mushrooms and ecstasy.
"And they're being sold over the counter to our kids," he added.
Armed with search warrants, Epperly and other law enforcement officials are now looking into other convenience stores across the county that may be carrying these substances.
"We've seized thousands of dollars in inventory," Epperly said. "We're sending some of these substances to the state crime lab for further testing."
Epperly said there has been at least one death in the bi-county area that has been attributed to use of synthetic drugs. Toxicology reports are still pending on that case.
It seems that early drug intervention programs may be falling short in discouraging teens to experiment with these potentially deadly substances.
"The DARE program is about the most positive program we have here for the kids," said Epperly. "It's basically dying out in some areas, but I feel if it even saves one life, it's worth it."
Epperly has plans for getting information on the dangers of synthetic drugs to area teens and parents.
"I'm hoping to put together a presentation on the dangers of synthetic drugs and let parents know what to watch for," Epperly said.
"All counties are going through this," Epperly continued. "Law enforcement just has to stand against it, legislators too. It's amazing how quickly this stuff has spread and how deadly it can be."