Taking a stand: Unicoi County residents rally against synthetic drugs

Brad Hicks • Feb 29, 2012 at 8:31 AM

ERWIN — Greg Harris told the crowd of around 40 gathered in front of Erwin Town Hall on Tuesday evening that his abuse of bath salts made him forget who he was at times, led to several hospital trips and hurt not only him, but his family.

“It’s the devil,” he said. “It’s the most evil thing I’ve ever seen.”

Harris was among those who attended an anti-drug rally held here on Tuesday. And it was clear those in attendance agreed with Harris’ stance — the synthetic drug problem must be eliminated.

The rally was organized by Josh Callahan, youth pastor at Lighthouse Baptist Church in Unicoi. Callahan previously attended a seminar in which Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson discussed the dangers of synthetic drugs and said he was inspired to organize the rally after seeing news reports last week of a rally made up of Daniel Boone High School students.

Callahan said pressure must be placed upon lawmakers to pass legislation to criminalize synthetic drugs and that these laws must have “teeth.”

“It’s destroying lives. It’s destroying homes. It’s destroying a generation of kids,” Callahan said. “We’ve got to stand up and do something. If you don’t stand up, who will?”

After attending the seminar at which Tilson spoke and learning that an anti-drug rally was set, Unicoi County High School sophomore and youth group member Nathan Farnor then took to the Web and sent text chain messages to get the word out about the rally, which was to speak out against not only synthetic drugs, but all illegal drugs.

“I’ve always been against drugs, but I had never heard of synthetic drugs until I went to that seminar with Regan Tilson and I learned a lot,” Farnor said.

Until strict legislation is passed, Tilson said the best thing that can be done to alert children of the dangers of synthetic drugs is educational programs in the schools and make them aware of available resources. However, he also said parents must educate themselves as well.

“We hear ‘bath salts’ or ‘incense,’ and it doesn’t necessarily raise a red flag,” Tilson said. “ ... So we have to educate ourselves.”

Callahan agreed parents should educate themselves on the issue. He said those attending Tuesday’s rally have taken a step toward doing just that.

“You’ve got a lot of parents who have turned out that have young kids that want to raise their awareness because they don’t know what’s going on with this stuff,” he said.

Tilson said Erwin, like other areas, is seeing the effects of synthetic drugs. He said the Erwin Police Department dealt with nine incidents in three days last week. He also said the town has seen juvenile synthetic drug overdoses and hospitals and EMS crews are becoming “overloaded.” With all the problems synthetic drugs cause, Tilson said one thing that is not yet known is the toll such substances take on a user’s body.

“There’s a lot of factors that are coming into this,” he said. “The factors that we don’t even know yet are what it’s doing to the body. There’s always side effects to any drug.”

The protest was held across the street from the Erwin Tri-City Wholesale Tobacco Store. Store owner Allen Hampton said the store did sell incense potpourri, but those items have now been pulled from the store’s shelves. John Day, spokesman for the Unicoi County Citizens for Good Governance who helped facilitate the rally, said Hampton has also committed to place a sign in the store stating synthetic drugs are not sold there.

Monday, the Unicoi County Commission unanimously passed a resolution restricting the sale and use of bath salts and synthetic drugs. Under the resolution, which is similar to other local restrictions, violators will face a $50 civil fine.

“With (Hampton) doing what he did, and with the county doing what it did last night, we feel like we’ve already accomplished what we set out to do,” Callahan said.

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