WAIMEA — In the world of mind-altering substances, sleeping aids have become the new date rape drug, while other “designer drugs,” such as Spice, Spark and Ivory Wave are producing effects that medical personnel may not be ready for.
Sex Assault Nurse Examiner Ricko Rask first recognized some of the new drug trends while at work less than two months ago.
“I had a patient on Spice in the ER and didn’t know a thing about the drug,” Rask said. She also works as an ER nurse at a Hawaiian hospital.
She saw six similar cases, along with a woman who had been sexually assaulted on Kaua‘i after she was given an unknown substance.
“It really worried me that I didn’t have the most up-to-date knowledge for my patients,” Rask said.
Recognizing that she isn’t the only one who could use more training, Rask contacted Gary Shimabukuro of Laulima Hawai‘i for help.
The drug awareness and prevention speaker is expected to discuss new drugs at two Waimea schools today, followed by a free public event at 5:30 p.m. at the Waimea Theater.
Then on Tuesday, Shimabukuro will lead two training sessions on drug trends with medical professionals, members of the Kaua‘i Police Department and Office of the Prosecuting Attorney and Social Services. The law enforcement community came together to host the events, Rask said.
The public event will focus on what’s new, what’s old but being used in new ways, and how to recognize if someone is under the influence, Rask said. Door prizes, free popcorn and drinks will be provided.
Shimabukuro, she added, has given numerous talks in the state and has provided drug education for businesses, schools, apprenticeship programs, labor organizations, management groups, law enforcement agencies, military personnel and other organizations since 1978. He is donating his time for the upcoming events.
“I hope we fill the theater,” Rask said.
Although some of the new drugs aren’t prevalent on island yet, Rask said it’s important to be prepared and talk to young people before they decide to experiment.
“There’s no time to wait,” she said. “You have to be able to respond to these things, you can’t react.”
Following her experiences with Spice patients, Rask said she has since learned that the drug is a synthetic marijuana that is smoked.
“The problem is that the effects of Spice are nothing like marijuana,” she said. “They produce very violent paranoid reactions. Self-mutilation is common.”
So far, patients she’s treated have all been in their 20s and came to the hospital because friends or family said “they were not acting right.” While at the hospital, they were observed and kept safe while the drug wore off.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration website, on March 1 the DEA announced that chemicals used in Spice and a similar drug known as K2 are under federal control and regulation. Except as authorized by law, possessing and selling these chemicals or the products that contain them is illegal in the United States, a DEA press release states. They have been designated as Schedule I controlled substances, considered the most restrictive under the Controlled Substances Act.
“This emergency action was necessary to prevent an imminent threat to public health and safety,” the release states.
The temporary scheduling action will remain in effect for at least one year while the DEA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study whether these chemicals should be permanently controlled.
“These products consist of plant material that has been coated with research chemicals that claim to mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and are sold at a variety of retail outlets, in head shops, and over the Internet,” the release states. “These chemicals, however, have not been approved by the FDA for human consumption and there is no oversight of the manufacturing process.”
Another trend that Shimabukuro is expected to discuss involves off-label drug use, in which a drug that is intended for one purpose is used for another. Such has been the case with the sleeping aids Ambien and Unisom.
In higher doses they produce an effect much like amnesia and have been used to facilitate sex assault.
“It’s replacing roofies and GHB because of the availability,” the nurse said. “It can be crushed into food or dissolved into a drink.”
Ambien is prescribed liberally, Rask said, and Unisom is available over the counter.
Ambien and Sonata, a sleep aid, are benzodiazepine-like central nervous system depressants and are listed as Schedule IV substances under the Controlled Substances act, according to the DEA.
Rohypnol — known as “rophies,” “roofies,” and “roach” — is a benzodiazepine.
“Bad things happen in our community,” Rask said, “but how we respond to them is what’s going to make a difference.”
• Jessica Musicar, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or by e-mailing jmusicar@thegarden