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The Focus is on Synthetic and Opioid Drugs, but What About Drug X? Part I

The Focus is on Synthetic and Opioid Drugs, but What About Drug X? Part I

Young people and adults use all types of substances (NIDA, 2015). Although rates of use are decreasing for some synthetic drugs, too many youth continue to use these drugs, which are man-made chemicals with a high potential for abuse and no medical benefits. They imitate other chemicals and are sold online and in drug paraphernalia shops and novelty stores. The user may take one of these drugs that is laced with other drugs and not be aware of every chemical being ingested.  


“Synthetic cannabinoids” relate to chemicals found in the marijuana plant. These are sprayed on plant materials to smoke, or sold as a liquid that is inhaled in e-cigarettes. These go by many names such as “K2,” “Spice,” “Joker,” “Black Mamba,” “Kush,” and “Kronic.” These drugs can cause paranoia, confusion, hallucinations, rapid heart rate, chest pains, seizures, kidney damage, violent behaviors or suicidal behaviors.   


“Synthetic cathinones,” also known as bath salts, are a family of drugs that are chemically similar to stimulants or MDMA. They are marketed as plant food, jewelry cleaner or phone screen cleaner under names like “Ivory Wave,” “Bloom,” “Cloud Nine,” and others. They can be taken orally, inhaled or injected with a needle. These drugs can cause racing heart, high blood pressure, chest pains, kidney failure, paranoia, hallucinations or panic attacks.  


In some cases these drugs are lethal. For example, a nineteen-year-old student used MDMA, also called “molly,” at a concert (Allen, 2015). At midnight she collapsed, had a seizure, and died about one hour later. Tests showed that her body also had the active ingredient of bath salts, which was probably mixed with the molly. Family and friends were shocked and devastated, thinking, “How could this happen to a good, smart young woman with so much potential?” Her heartbroken father now speaks to other students about the dangers of using molly. Imagine the grief in losing a daughter because she made a bad decision and used a drug that was lethal.  


Opioid Drugs


Deaths from overdose and other negative outcomes from heroin and prescription opioid drug use have increased (NIH, 2015b). For the past ten years, the Bridge-to-Hope Family Support Program in Pittsburgh, PA has hosted an annual “Vigil of Hope” so families can share their grief and remember those who died from their addiction. Those who died were usually under thirty. At these Vigils, with music playing in the background, family members light a candle and make a statement in memory of their lost loved one. Having attended two Vigils, I can tell you this is a heart-wrenching experience. An article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette described this Vigil and highlighted the effects of losing a son or daughter to addiction by printing these comments of parents (Fuoco, 2012):  



  • “I light this candle for my daughter who died three months ago.” 
  • “I light this candle for my son and three of his friends who died.” 
  • “My candle is for my beautiful son—may he rest in peace.”   


I talked to many parents after the Vigils and words cannot convey their intense sadness, grief, confusion, depression, and anger over losing a son or daughter to a drug overdose. 


Why All the Focus on Synthetic and Opioid Drugs?   


Many print and e-publications and news programs have produced stories on synthetic and opioid drugs, and medical and behavioral consequences, including deaths from overdose or other medical complications. There are several reasons for this. Young people have easy access to these drugs and often use them without thinking much about potential adverse effects.  In the last decade there has been a five-fold increase in deaths from heroin overdose, and a three-fold increase in deaths from prescription opioid pain relievers; in 2013 over sixteen thousand people died from an overdose of opioid pain relievers, and over eight thousand died from a heroin overdose (NIH, 2015b).  Many communities acknowledge that there is an epidemic related to opioid drug use.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the amount of prescription painkillers sold in the US has nearly quadrupled since 1999, but there has not been a change in the amount of pain reported to doctors (2016). In our clinical programs we have observed an increase in individuals transferring their addiction from prescription opioids to heroin because it is cheaper and easy to obtain. We have also noticed that more young people from the middle class suburbs are becoming addicted to opioids. People who take opioids for pain may develop an increased tolerance, which can lead to an addiction. Using higher dosages increases the risk of overdose, including fatal ones. Additionally, ingesting drugs with needles raises the risk of acquiring or transmitting the HIV or hepatitis virus. It is important to focus on helping individuals with these drug problems. But, what about other drug problems?  


Drug X: One of the Most Dangerous Drugs on Earth


Many users of synthetic or opioids also use Drug X, which is one of the most dangerous drugs known to man when used to excess. The use of this drug has caused severe problems for many users, families, and society. It is often used in combination with other drugs. Adolescents and young people are more likely to get high on Drug X than on other substance (NIDA, 2015), but parents and adults worry more about other drugs. I am concerned that problems with Drug X get pushed into the background because of the focus on opioids and synthetic drugs. I frequently see or hear about peoples’ whose lives have been seriously harmed by Drug X. 


This drug can cause or worsen medical or psychiatric disorders, decrease the life span, cause the breakup of families, and contribute to other social problems. Drug X raises the risk of violence, sexual assault, and suicide. Too many people under the influence of Drug X die from vehicle or other accidents because their judgment is impaired.  


It is not just those addicted to Drug X who experience tragic outcomes. Even a single episode of using too much of this drug can lead to a negative outcome. Here are two examples: 


A young woman impaired by Drug X tweeted a note that essentially stated she was too intoxicated on Drug X to care. Later than night, she wrecked her car causing the death of two friends. She was sentenced to twenty-four years in prison.      


Some college athletes were acting wild in the middle of the night in a church after consuming Drug X. After 2:00 am, one young man was in the crawl space high up in the church. As he crawled in the pitch dark, he suddenly fell through the insulation, hitting his head on a church pew about thirty feet below. This young man died several days later from severe head trauma. He was a young man any parent would be proud to have for a son because he was a hard worker, persistent, respectful, and well liked. Yet he died from behaviors caused by using too much of Drug X.  


In the next issue of Counselor, this column will reveal Drug X (if you haven’t guessed it already), and will examine how to address its effects. 






Allen, E. (2015). Father of molly victim speaks to students about its danger. Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/01/25/father-teen-who-overdosed-molly-speaks-nowto-students-about-its-dangers/E3ilh4gpdheLJDkYfx3yJJ/story.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). Injury prevention and control: Prescription drug overdose. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/
Fuoco, M. A. (2012). The effects of a child lost to addiction is heart-wrenching, lasting. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.post-gazette.com/local/region/2012/08/12/Heroin-s-Siren-Song-The-effects-of-a-child-lost-to-addiction-is-heart-wrenching-lasting/stories/201208120224  
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2015). Drug use trends remain stable or decline among teens. Retrieved from http://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/drug-use-trends-remain-stable-or-decline-among-teens
National Institute on Health (NIH). (2015b). Overdose death rates. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates