VALPARAISO | Prescription drugs are the fastest growing drug problem in the United States and are being used more than any illegal drug except marijuana, a local drugs and forensics expert said Tuesday.
Michelle Volk, president and CEO of Great Lakes Labs, presented a “Crash Course on 21st Century Drugs” to about 40 parents and professionals at the Family and Youth Services Bureau.
Drugs such as ritalin, vicodin and xanax are “highly abused” by teenagers in Porter County, and are easily obtained at high schools that are “little pill mills,” Volk said.
“It is very pervasive in Porter County, and our teens are using them,” she said.
She spoke about trends in prescription and illegal drug use, physical symptoms of drug use, what to search for in a teen's backpack and bedroom, and synthetic drug use.
Volk said Porter County is considered one of the nation's high intensity drug trafficking areas, and heroin use has been heavy locally for about 15 or 16 years.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, heroin was injected, but its purity level has improved and people now are able to get the same high by sniffing or smoking it, Volk said.
“I can't tell you how bad the problem of heroin in Porter County is,” she said. “The purity has increased while the cost has decreased.”
A high potency form of marijuana known as Kush also is readily available in Porter County, Volk said.
Marijuana contains a mixture of more than 425 psychoactive chemicals that impair memory, learning, motivation and reflexes. Some experts believe it is addictive, she said.
New forms of synthetic marijuana are on the market that cause agitation, anxiety, nausea, tachycardia, tremors and seizures, Volk said.
Synthetic cathinones, amphetamine-like stimulants, appear as a fine white to off-white or slightly yellow powder and are often sold as bath salts, plant food, jewelry cleaner and phone screen cleaner, she said.
There also is an emerging new generation of “bath salts” called phenylethylamines, which have psychoactive effects comparable to LSD.
Risks of using synthetic cathinones or phenylethylamines include extreme paranoia, delusional thinking, hallucinations, self-mutilation and suicidal thoughts, Volk said.
Drugs also come in candy flavors such as strawberry methamphetamine, chocolate cocaine, coconut cocaine, lemon cocaine and cinnamon cocaine.
“Rummy Bears” are gummy bears soaked in alcohol, while “Robo Trippin” is the term for ingesting large amounts of Robitussin. Ingesting numerous pills at parties is known as “Skittling” because of the candy-like appearance of the pills, Volk said.
Volk said teens might hide their drugs in highlighters, makeup compacts, lipsticks, pens, belt buckles and other everyday objects.
Evidence of drug use might include alcohol bottle caps stacked on a night stand, a small bag of pills tucked inside a baseball cap or CD sleeve, straws that are cut short, bent spoons, pieces of foil or small baggies. Pacifiers are used by ecstasy addicts who want to prevent grinding their teeth due to muscle tightness in their jaw.
Parents also should be aware of codes for drug use, including the number 420, which refers to April 20, or national marijuana day, Volk said.