Our Opinion: ‘Spice’ far more dangerous than drug’s name implies

The latest drug scourge to strike the Wyoming Valley involves, not “bath salts,” but instead, a concoction called “spice.”

Don’t be fooled by the cutesy name; this is a nasty, chemical-laced substance that can kill. Dozens of people requiring medical attention, most in their 20s and 30s, have been found under its influence near downtown Wilkes-Barre, and subsequently were cited by police, in only the past week.

News outlets ranging from U.S. News & World Report to the Daily Beast this week are amplifying alarm bells about the public health threat posed by spice. “The hallucinogen has sent more than 5,000 people to poison control centers already this year,” the Daily Beast reports.

Billed as “synthetic marijuana,” spice actually bears little in common with the natural drug – other than it seemingly appeals to lots of people seeking an escape from boredom, emotional pain or other troubles that aren’t being properly addressed. Until society devotes more effort to solving those issues – loneliness and desperation – the drug war remains a losing battle.

Lawmakers previously found it impossible to stay ahead of the people in garages and labs who tinkered with chemical compounds, constantly creating new and, at least temporarily, legal substances. A “blanket law” passed in Pennsylvania made all synthetic drugs illegal, but sellers sometimes skirt the issue by claiming their product is, for instance, an incense or potpourri.

Widely abused by teenagers and – as noted recently by New York City’s police commissioner – problematic among clusters of homeless individuals, spice is cheap. A packet can sell for $5 or less, according to a Times Leader news article printed Thursday.

Spice contains dried, shredded plant material, which is sprayed with various chemicals that give it a mind-altering kick. It typically gets smoked, but also has been used to infuse drinks.

Some users have reported severe symptoms such as “rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion and hallucinations,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Spice also has been blamed for spikes in blood pressure and heart attacks. “Regular users,” according to the institute, “may experience withdrawal and addiction symptoms.”

Buyers of the junk might be tricked into believing spice is relatively harmless because of its labeling. Packets get marketed under hundreds of names, many of them innocuous, including fake weed, K2, Hulk and Scooby Snax.

But the only stamp put on spice should be this: HIGHLY DANGEROUS.


Find area drug-abuse treatment programs, mental health counselors, homeless shelters and other social services by calling Help Line at 2-1-1. Or visit www.helpline-nepa.info.