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News > Synthetic drugs create issues in Air Force
Salvia “Spice” and bath salts are prohibited due to their risks to the health, welfare and readiness of our Airmen. Airmen are now receiving Article 15s and are court-martialed for Spice nearly twice as often as marijuana. Just using spice once can result in punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 112a-wrongfully using a controlled substance. (U.S Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Douglas Ellis/Released)
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Synthetic drugs create issues in Air Force

Posted 8/10/2012   Updated 8/10/2012 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Mike Meares
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Public Affairs

8/10/2012 - JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii  -- Stories across America have described strange and bizarre incidents of people doing even stranger and more bizarre acts while high on synthetic stimulants.

In Miami, a 31-year-old man attacked a 65-year-old homeless man, stripped off all his clothes, and chewed off sum 80 percent of his face. Reports from onlookers characterized him as a "zombie," behaving as if he were under the control of some evil or demonic possession.

In West Virginia a man high on bath salts was found wandering the woods in lingerie after he allegedly stabbed a goat. In Texas, police were called to respond to a father of two, who allegedly smoked spice and was out of control. When the police arrived, the man was sitting on the front porch covered in blood and fur where he had eaten the family pet.

And in Louisiana, a 21-year-old man slit his throat with a butcher knife after counting more than 30 cop cars and helicopters in front of his home, a sight his on-looking father couldn't see. He admitted to snorting bath salts and committed suicide a few days later.

Spice and bath salts, labeled "not for human consumption," are synthetic drugs and have become the drugs of choice for users, 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 a 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 since the beginning of the year involving Airmen.

"We as an Air Force can't afford that," the colonel 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."

The "poor decision" to use spice or bath salts is only the surface of what is going on with these synthetic drugs according to medical professionals. Spice attempts to mimic the look and enhances the effects of marijuana, while bath salts are a white crystallized 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. Officials 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."

Users typically inhale, inject, smoke or snort the drugs to experience the same stimulant effects to those of amphetamines. Symptoms range from, but are not limited to, extreme paranoia, hallucinations, delusional psychosis, extremely high body temperature, vivid hallucinations and hostility or aggression, extreme anxiety, suicidal thoughts and insomnia, psychomotor retardation, psychomotor agitation and anxiety. Some have been admitted to psychiatric hospitals and have experience continued neurological and psychological affects long after they stopped using the products.

"They are sold in different brands, different synthetic compounds all having different effects," Patrick 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."

President Barrack Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, July 9, 2012, 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. This act allowed for any Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance to be treated as if it were also listed, as long as it was intended for human consumption. Schedule I substances are not recognized to have any medicinal value. Some versions of bath salts and spice contain federally controlled substances, while others are chemically similar, but not on the controlled substance list.

Members 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 fifteen years for wrongful distribution.

"If you use this stuff, you are going to face legal consequences," said U.S. Navy Commander Lt. 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."

The Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board establishes guidance and off-limits areas to military personnel in Hawaii. The AFDCB works with investigators to review establishments in the local area which are suspected of carrying and selling illegal drugs, and declare them off-limits in order to maintain good order and discipline and to protect the health, welfare and safety of Hawaii servicemembers. As of July 6, 2012, seven businesses have been put off limits by the AFDCB: Hawaii Natural High, The Dungeon/Flesh/Sexopolis/After 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."

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