WELLSBURG - A local agency, a regional volunteer group and Brooke County school officials have teamed in an effort to educate the public about the dangers and symptoms of bath salts and synthetic marijuana through a free program to be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Brooke High School auditorium.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers has reported a dramatic rise in the number of calls related to the two drugs.
The national organization reported 6,072 bath salt-related calls were received in 2011, compared to 303 in 2010; and 5,741 calls related to synthetic marijuana, compared to 2,915 in 2010.
"There's definitely been a rise in these in the area and throughout West Virginia. We're hoping this forum will raise awareness," said Jason Rine, a drug-free community coordinator for Advocates for Substance Abuse Prevention, a program of the Brooke-Hancock Family Resource Network.
In addition to Rine, key speakers will be Cathy Coontz, who is senior substance abuse prevention specialist for the West Virginia Bureau for Behavioral Health Facilities; and Jo Anne McNemar, community support specialist for Community Connections Inc.
Afterward, the audience will be invited to ask questions of a panel of law enforcement and court officials that will include Brooke County Sheriff Richard Ferguson, Chief Sheriff's Deputy Chuck Jackson, Sheriff's Deputies Larry Palmer and John White, who are prevention and resource officers in Brooke County schools; Bob Fowler, Brooke County director of emergency management; Todd Gilbert, program director for the regional juvenile mediation program; Jim Lee, chief probation officer for Hancock, Brooke and Ohio counties; Jodi Mankowski of the Hancock-Brooke juvenile drug court; Mark Simala, a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration and director of the Brooke-Hancock-Weirton Drug Task Force.
The goal is to convey signs of the drugs' use that may be recognized by family members, friends and others if they encounter them and facts parents and other adults need to warn youth about the drugs' harmful effects.
Bath salts are a synthetic stimulant made up of several dangerous chemicals, according to the DEA, and may be snorted, smoked, injected or taken orally.
They have been known to cause insomnia, irritability, dizziness, depression, paranoia, seizures, panic attacks, heart attacks, strokes, nosebleeds, sweating and nausea, according to the federal agency.
Rine noted they are unusual in that they are sold in some stores under various brand names and have been called cloud nine, vanilla sky, white dove and white lightning.
The drugs' makers are able to do this by labeling them "Not for human consumption" and changing their makeup to skirt federal regulations, he said.
Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania are among many states that in recent years have added laws banning their sale.
Also known as K2, fake weed or spice, synthetic marijuana is made up of spices and herbs that are usually sprayed with tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, according to the DEA.
Like regular marijuana, it's smoked in a pipe or a joint and its symptoms include paranoia, panic and increased heart rate and blood pressure, according to the agency.
Rine said such drugs have the potential to be fatal as well as opening the door for abuse of other drugs.
The Advocates for Substance Abuse Prevention have been working to promote awareness of the signs and dangers of several drugs through fliers placed in local newspapers, in grocery bags at area stores and at various agencies.
Also involved in the battle against illegal drugs is the Governor's Regional Substance Abuse Task Force.
Comprised of volunteers from throughout the Northern Panhandle, the group was formed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to develop strategies for educating the public about drug abuse.
Rine said it is open to anyone who wants to do something about the drug problem, which has been a factor in many crimes and accidents.
Members plan to meet on a rotating basis at various sites in the Northern Panhandle and have met at Weirton Medical Center and Brooke and John Marshall high schools.
For information, call Rine at (304) 748-7850.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)