Ho'okele Staff | Aug 20, 2012
Joint Base Pearl Harbor- Hickam Public Affairs
Stories across America have described incidents of people doing strange and bizarre acts while high on synthetic stimulants.
Spice and bath salts, labeled “not for human consumption,” are synthetic drugs and their use is on the rise, including Airmen in the U.S. Air Force. Consumption of these chemicals is creating what many describe as real-life zombies.
Though chemists are staying one step ahead of the law to keep the products legal and readily available in “head shops,” the Air Force is in a full sprint to stop the use of these drugs by Airmen. They are now testing for them in random drug urinalysis.
“We are testing and can detect Spice now,” said Col. Dann Carlson, 647th Air Base Group commander and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam vice commander. “It’s a problem, especially here in Hawaii. It’s a very easy product to get hold of.”
In an all-call for Airmen E-6 and below, the commander, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigation special agents, medical Airmen and the Area Defense Council attorneys described in great detail how the synthetic drugs will affect the body and why they are illegal. Hickam law enforcement officials are currently tracking more than 30 cases involving Airmen since the beginning of the year.
“We as an Air Force can’t afford that,” Carlson said. “I, as a commander, absolutely hate when I have to deal with these kinds of cases. One, you know it’s off limits. Two, we made it very clear, and you know we can test for it. So, it’s really just a matter of making a poor decision.”
Spice attempts to mimic the look and enhances the effects of marijuana, while bath salts are a white crys-tallized powder made to imitate cocaine. However, their potency ranges from four to 100 times greater than marijuana or cocaine, and use of the drugs can be many more times dangerous than drugs like LSD and methamphetamines. Offi-cials say the chemists, the distributors and the stores selling the products don’t know what the active ingredients are.
“Anything with the picture of Tony Montana (from the movie Scarface) on the front doesn’t belong in the bathtub,” said Special Agent Jeff Patrick, Air Force Office of Special Investigations Det. 601. “You don’t know what you are getting when you buy this stuff. (Chemists) clearly know what this is doing to people, but they are not concerned for anyone’s safety. By marketing it as not for human consumption, (chemists are) able to avoid violating 21 U.S. Code 813 Control Substance Act and Federal Analog Act.”
Some people have been admitted to psychiatric hospitals and have experienced continued neurological and psychological effects long after they stopped using the products.
“They are sold in different brands, different synthetic compounds, all having different effects,” Pat-rick said.
“As a matter of fact, you can buy two of the same packages (with the same name), have them both tested at the same lab, and they might come back with different chemical makeups. To me, it’s like playing Russian roulette. This is some dangerous stuff.”
According to Naval Criminal Investigative Services, statistically, the demographics of Spice or bath salt users are 83 percent male and 17 percent female, average age of 21, with 75 percent of all subjects ranging from the age of 18 to 23 in the pay grade of E-3.
“We do a great job as a military in defending ourselves against all kinds of threats,” Carlson said. “Our cyber folks, our (communications) folks do an incredible job on a daily basis of defending us against a threat. We do that across the board when it comes to an active defense in our military.”
“I see this as an active defense for us in our military because I see this as one of our potentially biggest threats to our force right now with the fact that it’s taking out our most important assets, our people. It’s taking them out now at an alarming rate,” he said.
President Barrack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 on July 9, adding the synthetic cannabinoid, commonly known as “Spice,” and 11 other synthetic cathinones, commonly known as “bath salts,” to schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Service members who are caught using, distributing or possessing these substances can be charged for a violation of Article 112a, Uniform Code of Military Justice. The consequences of illegally using a schedule I controlled substance are very severe and can include a dishonorable discharge and confinement for five years for possession or use and a dishonorable discharge and confinement for 15 years for wrongful distribution.
“If you use this stuff, you are going to face legal consequences,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Elkins, Navy Region Hawaii staff judge advocate. “Whether you get caught the first time or later on down the road, you are going to get caught.”
In the last year, a more aggressive urinalysis program to test targeting compounds found in Spice and bath salts has been a priority for the Department of Defense branches. Officials anticipate the program to expand and strengthen as they continue to wage war on these illegal substances.
“If you are not caught by urinalysis, though, whoever you are using it with is probably going to tell on you,” she said. “They get caught, they’re going to talk.”
As of July 6, seven businesses have been put off limits by the AFDCB: Hawaii Natural High, The Dungeon/Flesh/Sexopolis/A fter Hours/The Shelter, Smokies, Hawaiian Holy Smokes, Hawaiian Holy Smokes II, South Shore Glass and Oahu Glass.
“If you see a ‘head shop,’ don’t go into it,” Elkins said. “It’s not worth it. You might not be sure if it’s off limits or not, but if you have a shop with bongs in the window, you’re a military member, you know good things are not going to come from what’s in there.”