COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Most of the chemicals in K2 and bath salts are newly banned, but the manufacturers may have found a way to keep them on Midlands store shelves.
"We could come up with any name, we could say bug spray," said prevention speciality Cecily Watkins. "That's just what they did."
"They" are the people who make the drugs in a lab with chemicals not derived from a plant. Synthetic cocaine can be snorted or injected. Manufacturers call it *bath salts, but it has nothing to do with bathing.
Spice, or K2 incense, won't add fragrance to your room, but it could be smoked and could get you high. What can be packaged so unassumingly is synthetic marijuana. "It's labeled 'not for human consumption,' therefore it doesn't have to be regulated by the FDA," said Watkins.
Watkins has immersed herself in synthetic drug research, and says it's a sneaky industry you may think would be becoming defunct. DHEC now forbids a list of chemicals that are commonly found in the synthetic drugs.
Perhaps there is no one as glad to hear the news as Todd Vandelinder. He says his 17-year-old son Ryan smoked K2 behind a church with a friend.
"I went in the room where they had my son," said Vandelinder. "He's slumped over unconscious, vomiting down himself. As the EMT put it, a comatose state."
Ryan Vandelinder pulled through, but his father is still angry. "I think store owners need to wake up and realize morally this stuff is not good for people," he said. "If they don't sell it, the manufacturer has nowhere to go with it."
If you walk into Seventh Sense smoke shop in Northeast Columbia, you may wonder why incense is still on the shelves. "It's not all the same, a lot of it has been vilified," said owner Jack Walton.
Walton says he's never sold bath salts because he had a hunch those were dangerous. But he's sold incense for three years, and says he's just making some adjustments because of the regulations. "We did whatever we had to do to make sure we didn't have what we weren't supposed to have, and then they changed the chemical make-up of the recipe so the stuff was okay to sell," said Walton.
"It's still not safe, it's just a variation of those same compounds so it still has those same hazards as the other ones," said Watkins. "JWOI8 is one of the named compounds, but chemically they can change the compound just a little bit so then is becomes JWHO19."
Walton says because it's legal and he hasn't had any major customer complaints, incense will stay on his shelves. "It just boils down to people having a choice and just people's individual rights, their personal freedoms," said Walton.
Watkins says the bottom line is there are loopholes manufactures can easily get around. The way to close those would be for the state lawmakers to reconvene and vote to forbid not just the chemicals in synthetic drugs, but chemicals that mimic them. Until that happens, what is barely legal will stay perfectly lawful.
"Some people think it's all gone, but it's all dangerous," said Watkins. "It still may be out there, it still may be available."
There is an exception to the rule in the City of Columbia. City council made an ordinance forbidding chemicals commonly found in synthetic drugs and anything that mimics them.