By Bethany Carlson
Quite often it’s meth and heroin that make the headlines around Corvallis and throughout the state, and while their effects are dangerous enough to make for dramatic news copy, the other trends health professionals and law enforcement are seeing have to do with good old fashioned THC. Specifically, that as cannabis is now more widely accepted, what has not been discussed is its effects on very small children and the ensuing emergency room visits when a young child gets into Mama’s special brownies.
Also concerning is toxicity associated with fake weed.
Honorable Methamphetamine Update
The Oregon State medical examiner reported in April 2013 that statewide meth-related deaths were at the highest level since 2000. The deaths were largely caused by risky behavior associated with meth use rather than direct overdose. However, Benton County has not seen the same increase in incidents, says District Attorney John Haroldson.
The days of Breaking Bad-style home labs are largely over, it would seem. Corvallis police captain Dave Henslee reports that production of the drug has largely been outsourced to Mexico, after a US crackdown on the raw materials needed to make it.
“Before the precursor substances were restricted, we saw a significant amount of meth lab production through the state,” says Haroldson.
Spice, also known as fake weed or K2, is a blend of dried plant material and synthetic cannabinoids that’s been on the rise nationally.
“Spice is illegal to manufacture, possess and sell because the most common active ingredients found in Spice are listed as Schedule 1 controlled substances by the DEA,” says Henslee.
Spice can cause symptoms such as vomiting, raised blood pressure and confusion and has been associated with heart attacks, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The formula varies from one product to another and little is known about its effects on human health, although heavy metals may be a concern.
It has been blamed for the May 2014 death of an Albany resident, Alan Garner, though the connection remains unproven.
THC in Children’s Emergencies & BHO
Butane honey oil (BHO), also known as “wax,” is a more recent trend, Haroldson and Henslee agreed. Butane is used as a solvent to extract THC from marijuana. The resulting compound is then processed further, and may contain up to 90 percent THC, says Haroldson.
The extraction process involves highly flammable substances: “Across Oregon, there have been numerous explosions during the process of making honey oil,” says Henslee. ”As honey oil continues to increase in popularity, so will the risks associated with manufacturing it.”
“We have had very young children—babies, toddlers–in the emergency room with THC exposure,” Haroldson reports. “We’ve had cases where we have someone breastfeeding and smoking marijuana. When someone’s breastfeeding, the concentration of THC multiplies seven times through the lactation process. Other exposures may be children who consume edibles that have been infused with the high percentage THC oil.”
THC overdoses are more severe in children because of their smaller body weight and can include acute psychological distress as well as physical symptoms. Children can accidentally ingest the drug very easily in all its commonly accepted forms, now including edibles, wax, oils, pills and others.
He continues, “My concern really applies to all intoxicants. The greater access that our community has to any intoxicant, the more use we will see. And that use extends to children.”
As THC has moved into wide acceptance and therefore more homes, the public health takeaway may be the same as for so many other things an adult accesses: keep out of reach of children.
Drug trafficking organizations sometimes target areas that lack sufficient law enforcement resources, said Haroldson. “The approach in Corvallis and Benton County has been to partner with a broad range of agencies, including the FBI, the state police, the attorney general’s offices, sheriff’s offices, city police. And in doing so, we’ve been successful in bringing down some of the largest drug trafficking operations in our area.”
“Benton County has a drug treatment court that has been recognized for its success, not just at the local level but at the national level as well,” he continued. “Despite that, we have faced fiscal challenges that have put the continuation of drug treatment court in question. If we don’t have the infrastructure to run the programs that are the most effective, we will not be in the best position to be able to respond to the opportunity to disrupt the cycle of addiction.”
Corvallisites need to take an integrated view of local issues such as drug use and jail facilities, rather than treating them as separate issues, Haroldson contends.
“Do we as a community want to have a jail that has a work release program?” he asked. “Do we want to have a jail that can support a drug treatment court, a mental health court? What about a domestic violence court, a homeless court?”
He mentioned the difficulty of allowing inmates contact with their attorneys or families while they are housed in rented jail beds in other counties.
As the county ponders a ballot measure for a new jail, Haroldson said, “I believe we need to sit down as a community, and define what it is we want.”