A new era of drugs are upon us.
S ythetic drugs have taken teens and young adults by storm. The target population for these drugs are children as young as 12 years old to young adults.
"T hey are narco terrorists. They are making money off of our kids lives, disabilities, and deaths," said Lavisa Matthews with Impact Futures.
P roducers use vibrant packaging and names like "Dr. Feel Good" to attract younger users.
T he packages often say the contents are incenses or potpourri and not for human consumption.
These drugs can cause everything from hallucinations, permanent physical and mental damage and even death.
" T hey said to my face, I'm building my empire and if you think I'm going to stop because some stupid kids die, you're wrong," said Matthews.
T here were about 11,000 emergency department visits from synthetics in 2010. Just a year later, it increased 2.5 times, to over 28,000.
T he American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 14 calls about synthetics in 2009. By May of 2011, the numbers were already at 2,324. And 2,874 calls reported in 2012.
Teens that are experimenting with synthetic drugs are not aware of the severe mental and physical damage these drugs can cause.
' I t's fake marijuana, it's legal, you can buy it in a smoke shop. Well, then it must be safe, because adults all of our lives have kept bad stuff out of our reach," Matthews said.
I mpact Futures said one in every three juniors in the Amarillo Independent School District tried it in 2012.
Consequences for these drugs are often hard to pursue.
"S o at this point what we're doing is at the schools is we seize the illegal item and then the school does whatever discipline they want to do with that ," said Sgt. Jerome Godfrey, head of school liaison officers with the Amarillo Police Department.
Synthetic drugs are nothing like traditional marijuana. Herbs or leafy materials are sprayed with a mix of chemicals that copy the effects of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
"I t ' s going to the same place in your brain that marijuana goes to in your brain but the potency can be 8 to 800 times more potent. that's why you have kids all of a sudden drop having a brain bleed or a seizure. it's bad ," Matthews said.
Even with the increasing regulations and crackdowns on smoke shops, teens can easily get their hands on these online. The websites will label the drugs as herbal incense and say they are not for human consumption. By using this kind of language, they are able to skirt the law.
Due to the rapidly evolving nature of these drugs, many parents are unaware of what synthetic drugs look like.
"W e had a lot of parents not know that's what it was, or not realize how it looked. And it looks similar to marijuana but it doesn't smell like it," Godfrey said.
These drugs also do not show up on regular drug tests and are not detected by canines.
Recently, officers say they've seen a decline in cases of synthetics in schools .
"A fter they started targeting that as a problem and did all of the different training and teaching the kids and putting posters all those things. I really think that's when we started seeing the decline," Godfrey said.
Godfrey said the key to preventing the use of synthetics is awareness.
Randall Sims, the district attorney for Potter County said parents need to be involved because they can be proactive, whereas law enforcement is reactive.