Teens and Drugs – K2 and Spice are Banned, but What Fix is Next?
Drug du jour K2 is now illegal in Michigan. But that doesn't mean parents can rest easy. What's at the heart of teen drug use? And what can families and communities do?
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Nearly two years ago, Bill Miskokomon began noticing a dramatic shift in his 16-year-old son's personality.
"He was not the kid I knew at all," the Shelby Township dad recalls. "I knew it wasn't him, and I couldn't reach him."
The blank stares, slipping grades and countless fights were too much to brush off as typical teen rebellion. Miskokomon, who asked that his teen son not be named, started to wonder if his son was using drugs. He administered drug tests to his son when it was time for the teen to get a driver's license, but the results came up clean each time.
"I had a false sense of security," he says of the negative tests – but he knew his child "still wasn't acting himself." As his relationship with his son further dwindled, he continued searching for the reason why.
Desperate for answers, Miskokomon searched the teenager's bedroom and found small, silvery packages labeled "potpourri."
A worried Miskokomon researched the substance online and discovered the potpourri he found in his son's room was actually K2, or "Spice" – a synthetic drug made of herbs, sprayed with chemicals and manufactured to mock the effects of marijuana when smoked, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The designer drug didn't show up on drug tests, was addictive, and – shockingly enough – was perfectly legal.
Miskokomon's son, now 17, had been smoking K2 for about a year and a half when Miskokomon found out. The teen had been buying it at a local gas station and smoke shop.
"It was like living a nightmare," Miskokomon says of that time. "A lot of times I'd worry if he was coming home, (or) if I was going to find him alive in the morning."
K2 received big headlines this summer as communities from Ann Arbor to Detroit to the entire county of Macomb passed ordinances banning the sale of it and other synthetic drugs, such as "bath salts." Within weeks, the state legislature fast-tracked a bill banning the sale of the drug statewide, and Gov. Rick Snyder officially kiboshed K2's legal status by signing the bill into law on June 19, 2012.
But while parents and politicians rejoiced, drug treatment experts and law enforcement officials had a more tempered response. They, after all, are on the front lines of teen drug use, and were well aware that K2 was just the latest teen drug trend. Banning one type of drug – while crucial – was just one battle in a war that may never be won.
After all, approximately 50 percent of high school seniors have tried an illicit drug in their lifetimes, and approximately 20 percent of eighth-graders have done the same, according to the national "Monitoring the Future Study" released by the University of Michigan in December 2011.
The prevalence, the problem and the publicity beg the question: Is there any way to stop teens from getting high?
Why teens do drugs
As long as there have been drugs, teens have experimented with them. The risky teenage behavior has to do with brain development, says Dr. Charlene McGunn, executive director of Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families, an anti-drug organization based in Clinton Township.
"The brain of an adolescent is research-proven to be a work in progress," she says, noting that MRI studies have shown "the brain is really not fully developed … until into the 20s."
"The area of the brain that is last to develop" – known as the prefrontal cortex – "is what promotes decision making," she says. Hence, a premature prefrontal cortex can cause teens to make bad decisions or take risks.
Of course, there are social reasons teens dabble with drugs, too.