Four Columbus North High School students were taken to the emergency room Wednesday morning after smoking Spice, a synthetic drug banned three years ago in Indiana, school officials confirmed.
People who smoke the shredded, dried plant sprayed with chemicals often feel psychotic effects that include extreme anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Smoking the substance has been linked to illness and death.
At 7:50 a.m. Wednesday, a male North student fell ill while attending a specialized class at Columbus East High School, patrolman and school resource officer Eric Stevens said.
The teen, who was trembling and exhibiting signs of increased anxiety, said he had smoked Spice with three female classmates before the start of school, said Larry Perkinson, student assistance coordinator for the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.
After the staff at North was notified, the three girls were pulled from class and taken to Columbus Regional Hospital, Stevens said.
While the students who ingested the drugs were all reported to be in stable condition by late Wednesday morning, they could still suffer from side effects, including elevated blood pressure, for up to three days after taking the drug, according to State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus.
Spice refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana that are marketed as safe, legal alternatives to that drug. The products are sold under many names, including K2, fake weed, Yucatan Fire, Skunk and Moon Rocks. Labeled “not for human consumption,” these products contain dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives that are responsible for their mind-altering effects.
Of the illicit drugs most used by high school seniors, Spice is second only to marijuana. Easy access and the misperception that Spice products are natural and therefore harmless likely have contributed to their popularity. Another selling point is that the chemicals used in Spice are not easily detected in standard drug tests.
Spice abusers who have been taken to Poison Control Centers report symptoms that include rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion and hallucinations.
Spice also can raise blood pressure and cause reduced blood supply to the heart, and in a few cases it has been associated with heart attacks. Regular users may experience withdrawal and addiction symptoms.
Source: Columbus Police Department
Smith was the original sponsor of the state ban against Spice — as well as a synthetic stimulant commonly called bath salts or monkey dust — that was passed in the Indiana General Assembly in 2011.
The lawmaker, who talked with one of the students at the hospital, said he was told the Spice was obtained Tuesday from a classmate at a fast-food restaurant near the 25th Street campus, Smith said.
Although Smith said the student told him the supplier had been arrested, investigators say they are unable to verify that information.
“We have still not identified the individual who sold the Spice to these students,” Stevens said late Wednesday morning.
Prior to the passage of the state ban, the Columbus-based school district recorded 16 incidents involving students using Spice, Perkinson said.
“This is the first time we had an incident since the law was passed,” Perkinson said.
Despite the ban, Spice resurfaced when manufacturers made slight chemical changes to the formula, Smith said.
While lawmakers closed many loopholes in early 2012, some retailers still attempt to get away with selling synthetic drugs by publicly marketing them as incense or potpourri, said Lt. Matt Myers, Columbus Police Department spokesman.
For example, police in neighboring Johnson County raided a Franklin service station last December after undercover officers purchased the synthetic drug more than 30 times there during a two-year investigation.
Under Indiana law, retailers could lose their business licenses for a year if they’re caught selling synthetic drugs.
However, due to conflicting legislation, the Phillips 66 station on East Jefferson Street was allowed to reopen within two days, according to a Dec. 27 story in the Daily Journal of Johnson County.
Besides retail outlets, synthetic drugs can be obtained online. There are also websites that show how to make Spice, Smith said.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “We need the public to be aware that these drugs are still available and for parents to discuss their seriousness with their children.”
Other than several online sources, more educational information concerning Spice and other synthetic drugs can be obtained in the lobby of the Columbus Police Department, located on the bottom floor at City Hall.