OSWEGO, NY – Members of the county’s Health and Human Services Committee heard an update regarding the local sale and abuse of synthetic “designer” drugs, artificial cannabinoids and other currently legal products, including Happy Shaman.
On Wednesday, representatives from Farnham Family Services and Oswego Hospital gave presentations on the drugs and their affects on the users.
The meeting and discussion tied in well with National Substance Abuse Recovery Month, according to Phil Church, county administrator.
“The Health Committee started dealing with this a couple of months ago with the issue of ‘bath salts’ that weren’t really bath salts,” he noted.
The committee unanimously passed a resolution asking the state and federal government to ban or better regulate the sale of the substances in question.
According to the resolution: “Hospitals, health agencies and poison control centers are experiencing increased emergency room cases, illnesses, deaths and reports linked to the use and abuse of these substances by children and adults.
“Law enforcement agencies and courts are seeing increased crime in our local communities associated with the sale and abuse of these substances.
“Manufacturers and retailers of these substances often directly market them to children and teenagers through the Internet and by colorful, youthful packaging designs that include no warnings or adequate description of the ingredients and are deceptively sold as incense or aroma products.”
The resolution concludes by urging the NYS Legislature and governor to immediately pass meaningful and effective legislation criminalizing the manufacture, sale and possession of these substances and their future derivatives or successors by anyone in New York State.
It also urges federal drug enforcement, health, justice and commerce agencies and elected officials to recognize the urgency of this matter and adopt effective regulations or bans on the manufacture, sale and possession of these substances and their future derivatives or successors by anyone in New York State.
“These things go by several names on the street,” Church said, adding that they pose a public health threat.
The state has attempted before to ban the manufacture, sale and possession of these products but has never followed through.
“This resolution simply urges the state and federal government to come together on this,” Church said.
In many cases, the administrator pointed out, users are substituting these legal drugs for their illegal drugs.
Some products, such as Happy Shaman, are being sold legally as herbal blend incense. However, it is being used by people to gain effects similar to marijuana, hashish and other forms of cannabis,” according to Jeanne M. Unger, executive director of Farnham.
It is also hard to detect in typical urine screens.
Karen Hoffman, prevention director at Farnham Family Services, shared an experience she had with a local teen-ager.
He told her he had tried Happy Shaman, adding, “How can there be anything wrong with it if it’s legal?”
Another teen told her he tried it once.
“I was so freaked, so anxious that I couldn’t wait to come down,” she recalled him saying to her.
“What we’re looking at is kids experimenting with stuff that is available to them. My concern is, if it’s available to them, what do adults know about this? I would give a very good guess that 50 percent of the adults in our county – if you said the words Happy Shaman would have no clue what it is. We need to educate our public,” she continued.
If parents are educated about these products, then, when they walk into a room and see a package marked “incense … not for human consumption,” they will know what it is, she said. “Then, they can say to their child, ‘Why did you buy this?’”
A big problem, according to Farnham officials, is that people are using these products and are basically driving and working “under the influence.”
Drug tests cost about $266 and take about two weeks to come back from the lab.
When faced with a possible ban, manufacturers reportedly have just change the formula slightly to get around the law and the product remains legal.
“But, it still has the same effect,” Unger noted.
Health officials pointed out it isn’t fair to compare these products to alcohol. Alcohol is what it is, they said, whereas these products are being marketed as one thing but used as something else.
“Alcohol is labeled as alcohol and it is regulated,” Church said. “Whereas, these other substances, sold as incense or stimulants, were mislabeled as bath salts. So a vast difference exists. Alcohol is identified as what it is. And, people know what it is. These substances are sold under labels that don’t clearly say what they are, ingredients aren’t clear, completely unregulated.”
Sales of alcohol are restricted to people of a certain age, committee chair Jack Proud pointed out.
“These drugs are intended toward youth; there is no regulation on this. It is necessary for us to begin to establish regulation,” he said.
Thanks in part to these types of products, business is booming at Farnham, Unger said. That isn’t really a good thing, she pointed out.
The director of the emergency department at Oswego Hospital told how employees there have been “punched, bitten and thrown” by patients brought in under the influence of these products.
One problem state and federal lawmakers are facing is how do you craft legislation that covers something that keeps changing, Church said.
One local businesswoman who sells Happy Shaman said she had a petition signed by “many signatures of adults, over 18, who want to continue to purchase the Shaman.” She left the committee meeting without presenting the petition, however.
It’s something you need an ID for; it’s only sold to 18 and over, she added.
The county’s public information department will work with the health department on a series of informational press releases on the subject in the near future.
“We need to look at our priorities,” Proud said. “We need to control the problem, before the problem controls us. Hopefully we can move forward with something positive to combat this type of situation.”
Established in 1971, Farnham Family Services offers prevention services, school-based Student Assistance and treatment services to all residents of Oswego and surrounding counties.
All services are licensed by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Farnham’s professionally certified staff is comprised of competent and skillful individuals who are continually updated with training through conferences and workshops.
Anyone interested in learning more about Farnham can call 342-4489 or visit www.farnhaminc.org