Washington County sheriff’s investigators seized what they thought was the first evidence of a new, more potent form of the synthetic drug bath salts this week, but as it turns out an officer had found it in another arrest months ago.
Ironically, it was the same woman in both cases.
The rock-like substance contains alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone. Alpha-PVP for short, it’s a synthetic stimulant acting on the cardiovascular and central nervous system, much like bath salts.
“We’ve been hearing about it for six months ... we had an officer take some two months ago,” said Lt. Doug Gregg, but the department didn’t know what the substance was until a lab report was complete.
“They couldn’t identify it at the time. They did a field test, but at that time we didn’t have a field test we could use on bath salt type substances,” Gregg said. “We thought it was a synthetic because we went through all our field tests and nothing was positive.”
There was also a difference in the makeup of the substance seized earlier this year. It was more of a powder while the alpha-PVP found this week was in the form of small rocks, very similar to crack cocaine.
The sheriff’s office now has two field tests for synthetic drugs, and Gregg said there will be more available as they are developed.
Dyann J. Hale, 50, 496 Treadway Trail Road, was arrested after deputies stopped her vehicle for improper registration and learned her license had been revoked for DUI since June 2012. When they inventoried the vehicle, officers found six bags of gravel as well as prescription pills and paraphernalia used to ingest or smoke drugs.
Hale was charged with violation of the registration law, operation of a vehicle without proper registration, driving on a revoked license, possession of a controlled substance analogue for resale and possession of drug paraphernalia.
A controlled substance analogue, by federal definition, is a substance with a chemical structure similar to the chemical structure of a controlled substance that has a stimulant, depressant or hallucinogenic effect on the central nervous system.
With the discovery that the first case was also related to Hale, she could face additional charges of possession of a controlled substance analogue.
Dr. Garik Misenar, chairman of emergency medicine at Johnson City Medical Center, said he’s seen several cases of people going to the hospital for treatment after they’ve used gravel.
“We’re starting to see some in the emergency room. We had a patient yesterday who had been injecting alpha-PVP,” Misenar said. “It’s similar to the bath salts we were seeing two yeas ago. It’s a powerful stimulant that causes some of the same paranoia and some of the same agitation.”
The person’s level of agitation tends to be lower, but the paranoia is more enhanced on alpha-PVP than what doctors saw from patients on bath salts, he said.
The patient from Thursday couldn’t sit still, Misenar said, and when people walked by his room, he thought they were out to get him.
“He left the ER twice. The second time he didn’t come back. His reason for being there was to get off the drug,” Misenar said.
Alpha-PVP metabolizes quickly out of the system, and there isn’t a specific detoxification protocol.
“You’re detoxed within a few hours of taking it,” Misenar said. “The problem is you get a euphoric feeling of joy (from the drug) that you want to get again. To get it again, you have to take the drug.”
But depending on what substance was used to thin down the pure alpha-PVP, there could be harsh damage to the user’s system.
“All the bath salts and molly (another powerful street drug), you’re depending on that chemist that he mixed it correctly. If he’s short one ingredient, they can use anything for filler,” Gregg said. “There have been reports of rat poison being used as a filler.”
Gregg and Sheriff Ed Graybeal said officers have responded to several calls about erratic behavior of someone on the drug.
“They have a tendency to be very violent. You can’t predict what they’re going to do,” Gregg said.
“Like with any drug-related call, you have to judge how they’re acting to determine if need to call medical attention. It’s the same as any drug situation we deal with. We have to gauge it based on what they’re doing,” he said.
Graybeal said one key to tamping out alpha-PVP is education — much like what happened when the bath salts influx occurred.
“Now that this new stuff is coming out, we’ll be doing some education in the schools like we did with the bath salts,” he said. “It’s bath salts, but just in a different form.”
He hopes citizens, particularly younger ones, will realize how they could destroy their lives and future by using the drug.
“If they’re going to college, have a good job ... this will destroy that.”
Gregg said the substance is likely coming from different areas.
“We’re not sure where it’s coming from. If you have a chemistry background you could probably make this at home,” he said. And if it’s made in a clandestine lab — like meth — “you don’t know if it’s in the United States, Mexico or where it’s done.”
Gregg said he’s interviewed two people recently who said they ordered the synthetic substance from the Internet.
Misenar echoed what Gregg and Graybeal said about the danger of the fillers in gravel.
“Anything you buy from a drug dealer, you have no idea of the purity or concentration, which is why it’s so dangerous,” he said.
And while the short-term effects are known, “we have very limited reports of long term use,” Misenar said. “But because it’s such a potent stimulant, they’re staying awake, they’re not eating ... we’re assuming the long-term effect would be similar to cocaine or methamphetamine.”