The woman’s voice was shaking as she described the frantic scene to the 911 operator.
“My son took something. I don’t know what he took, and he is just hallucinating,” the woman said as the sounds of screaming could be heard in the background. “My husband’s holding him down. He just broke a window, and he’s cut himself.”
The woman and her husband woke up to the sound of banging inside their home in their quiet Cross Roads neighborhood on Sept. 12. When police arrived at the residence, they found the couple’s 21-year-old being restrained on the floor, naked and bleeding, by his father.
The son was transported to an area hospital and recovered enough to tell police he had taken approximately 20 milligrams of “4 ACO DMT.” Papers police located in the son’s bedroom showed a recent Internet purchase of one of many variations of drugs called NBOMe, also known by its slang name, “N-Bomb.” Northeast police Chief James Edland said he won’t really know what drug the man took until test results come back from a lab.
The incident is typical of an overdose from new, synthetic designer drugs, which are relatively easy to obtain online or from a local smoke shop. Some of the drugs are technically legal: They haven’t existed long enough for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and other government entities to identify and classify the chemicals.
Law enforcement, medical professionals and the drug abuse treatment industry are still grappling with how to manage the problem.
When regulating agencies outlaw one chemical, the producers tweak the formula, creating a new and unclassified chemical with similar effects, according to Aubrey police Sgt. David Bruce.
The Aubrey Police Department recently posted on its Facebook page a warning about N-Bomb in response to reports that the local paramedics had encountered the drug on several calls. While the majority of drug calls Aubrey police respond to involve traditional drugs, the few recent incidents involving N-Bomb and others have officers concerned, Bruce said.
“The scary thing is when you see any of it, then immediately alarm bells go off,” Bruce said. “I believe there were two recent occurrences, not in our city but close by and within a few week period; that’s scary.
“When you see two or three in an area, then it is on the increase.”
Persons under the influence of N-Bomb are often unknowingly a threat to themselves or others. The drug’s effects can make the user immune to pepper spray and other non-lethal methods police use to subdue a dangerous person.
“It makes them almost impervious,” Bruce said. “They can’t feel pain and so they almost have superhuman strength. It typically takes four to six officers to subdue even a 150-pound subject. Typically Tasers don’t affect them.”
Rouhy Prueitt is an ER doctor at Denton Regional Medical Center who has treated patients with severe reactions to designer drugs. He said they are usually sweating profusely and have racing heart rates that can cause cardiac arrest. The drugs themselves can be deadly, he said, and it’s impossible to know right away what chemical has been ingested.
“When they come in, they’re psychotic. They don’t know where they’re at, they don’t know what they took. They just need to be tranquilized and resuscitated,” Prueitt said.
“The problem with these drugs is when they come in, they’re pulling on things, they’re being held down by the police, they’re yelling and screaming. That breaks down a lot of muscle, it creates a lot of temperature imbalances in the body, and it can really do some damage to the patient.”
Prueitt said a dangerous dosage can be very small and varies among different chemicals. Users often don’t know for sure which one they’re taking and, as a result, can easily take many times the dosage for a fun time and end up in a nightmare.
“It’s not regulated, so you have no idea what you’re taking and how much of it,” Prueitt said.
Users of the drug website erowid.org report effective doses of N-Bomb are measured in micrograms. The drug usually comes in the form of white or light brown powder or crystals and can be taken orally, placed under the tongue or snorted. It first became available online in 2010.
Because of its availability, young people can have better access to N-Bomb than other drugs or alcohol, which has led to the new drug being the first some teenagers ever try, according to Scott Wisenbaker, drug abuse treatment expert and founder of Solutions of North Texas in Denton.
“I think about when I was underage when it was easier to get my hands on a joint than to get a beer, so we all smoked pot,” Wisenbaker said.
Wisenbaker said users of traditional drugs such as cocaine typically develop a habit over time and often exhibit warning signs before it becomes dangerous. New synthetics can put users in the hospital after their first use.
“In some cases people actually believe that they’re buying LSD, but they’re not,” Wisenbaker said. “It’s coming out of China and [drug dealers] are diluting it with alcohol to drop it on blotter (paper), which is what they did with LSD.”
Some former law enforcement officials and anti-prohibition activists put the blame for these new drugs on the drug war. For example, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a non-profit organization composed of former police officers and justice system officials, advocates legalization of all drugs on the grounds that prohibition has not only been ineffective in combating the drug problem in the U.S. but has made it worse.
“The experience we’ve had with so-called synthetic drugs illustrates the whole problem with trying to combat drug abuse with the force of criminal law,” said John Delaney, a former district court judge and LEAP member. “Any time a new criminal law comes along, we ought to require some evidence that it’s going to make a difference instead of just a knee-jerk reaction thinking more law, more police, more prisons, more money is going to make a difference.”
Delaney said legalization and regulation would ensure the product is what it says it is, as with the alcohol industry. It would provide revenue and free up costs associated with enforcement, which could then be used for treatment and prevention programs.
“The truth is that [the war on drugs] has never made a difference in any positive way,” Delaney said. “The great irony of the war on drugs is that it has made the supply of drugs a criminal enterprise.”
Aubrey police Lt. Townsend, however, said he has seen first-hand the damaging effects of drugs and alcohol, legal or not, and supports measures to prevent their use.
“A high society is definitely not what we would want,” Townsend said.