When you talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol, you need to make sure you include a new kind of drug in that conversation.
Synthetic marijuana, also known as K2, hit Arkansas two years ago. Then came bath salts. As legislators work to restrict the availability of those drugs, manufacturers work to create new drugs.
The package of Mr. Smiley's Relax Max Relaxation Bars don't look that threatening, but doctors say they can be deadly. These pills contain a synthetic form of Xanax that is legally sold online and in some convenience stores for less than $10. Dr. Keith McCain, a clinical toxicologist at the Arkansas Poison and Drug Information Center said they contain phenazepam which can take it's user to a very dangerous low.
"There have been a lot of people with phenazepam that have been reported anyway to be so sedated that they need mechanical ventilation where they actually have to intubated, put on a ventilator and receive significant, invasive, life-saving procedures," said Dr. McCain.
Reports of phenazapam overdoses started surfacing in the Texarkana area a couple of months ago.
According to Dr. McCain, calls began coming into the poison center just as they did when synthetic marijuana and bath salts hit the market. Even though recent regulation has decreased those calls, they still happen. Dr. McCain said more than half of the users are male teenagers, under the age of 19.
"Bath salts are by far and away the worst. I've kind of gotten to the point where I tell people, I've got four small children and if I had to leave them in a room alone with bath salts, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and I could only take one thing out of the room, it would be the bath salts. Reason is you don't know what's going to happen."
The effects vary from person to person, but the drug can permanently alter the brain's chemistry creating dangerous waves of psychosis. Dr. Laura James, a toxicologist at Arkansas Children's Hospital says 11 percent of high school seniors say they've tried synthetic drugs. She believes marijuana use is on the rise in teens and because synthetic drugs aren't picked up on a normal drug test, kids are drawn to it.
"The concern for us as parents and people in the community is that the teen will think that they're smoking marijuana but they're getting a drug that really can cause a lot of problems such as heart attacks. We've seen cases of kidney failure," said Dr. James. "These drugs can cause extreme paranoia and agitation. There have been suicides associated with the use of these drugs because of the extreme paranoia and hallucinations that can come. So it's not just marijuana, anymore."
Dr. James encourages parents of teenagers to keep the lines of communication open. They also need to be vigilant. Make sure you see and smell your teenager when they come home. Make direct eye-contact to make sure they haven't been experimenting with anything dangerous.