K2 Crackdown: The fight against synthetic narcotics in Amarillo

In the last five months, Randall County Sheriffs have investigated two Amarillo smoke shops for distributing K2.

The Green Gorilla and Up In Smoke are just a few of the smoke shops found in the Texas Panhandle, and local law enforcement is keeping an eye out for any other businesses that might sell the synthetic marijuana. Working against them, however, are the laws focusing on the chemicals found within synthetic narcotics.

"We might send that off to the lab and the lab come back and say, 'No, there's nothing illegal in that," Amarillo Police Sgt. Brent Barbee stated. "You know, it doesn't matter if you've got a sick kid or a kid that has to be hospitalized because it's still a problem."

Laws designate specific chemicals to be illegal, and despite the effects other chemicals can have on the human brain, distributors of that synthetic marijuana cannot be held accountable as long as the designated chemicals are not found in the products they sell.

"The guys who are producing this stuff are one step ahead of us because they tweak the one component of this chemical and then they've got a new one that's not banned," Impact Futures Project Director LaViza Matthews pointed out.

Impact Futures is a drug-free community coalition focusing on the reduction of substance abuse in teens. Its members are currently working on a ban targeting the effects these chemicals have on the brain rather than the chemicals themselves. According to Matthews, legal chemicals can cause effects just as serious as the ones illegal chemicals bring on.

"There was recently a 17-year-old boy who bought what he thought was synthetic marijuana, went home, smoked it, had a seizure, went into a coma," she said. "Yes, he did survive but he will never be the same."

Matthews added she is currently working with parents who have children in treatment centers all over the state of Texas. Getting the kids away from Amarillo, she said, was a big part of their rehabilitation. According to a survey given by Impact Futures, nearly one in three high school juniors reported they have used a synthetic drug to get high at least once in the past year. That equates to about 570 teenagers.

Matthews urges parents to learn about the side effects and legalities of synthetic narcotics, as she believes moms and dads can play a big role in keeping teens away from drugs. The problem, Matthews said, goes deeper than just those who use the drugs.

"I actually had a smoke shop clerk tell me, 'I know you guys are eventually going to stop us because it's bad what we're doing, but until you do we're going to make as much money as we can.' I also had an owner- and I hope he sees this- said, 'I don't care. I'm building my empire. I don't care how many kids die.'"