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Counselors Say Addiction is Addiction When it Comes to Treating Synthetic Drug Users

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- Federal authorities raided alleged synthetic drug retailers in 29 states including Iowa on Wednesday. But what’s the approach for those people who become addicted or at least dependent on the substances sold as herbal incense or bath salts?

One chemical abuse counselor said it’s basically treated as any other drug dependency and the theory is “abuse is abuse.” But some who see the use issue at “street” level in Cedar Rapids do wonder if there are some differences in how users react to the drug.

Martin Dwyer, director of the Mission of Hope on First Avenue S.E., said he’s had a front-row seat for a look at the growing problem for the last few years. Some who come to the mission for a noon meal, fellowship or the food pantry are synthetic drug users. He knows them well.

Until a month ago, Kristin Wessel was one of them and the 38-year-old abused K-2, one of the so-called synthetic marijuana products.

“The sickness is bad. It’s like heroin it’s bad for you,” Wessel said.

Dwyer said the word “sickness” describes his thoughts of synthetic drug users in how they can react to the products. Some users who’ve been at the mission have had such severe reactions staffers had to call for an ambulance.

“The central nervous system wants to shut down and you enter into a seizure. We’ve had seizures occur in the building. Not every day, but we’ve had them just yesterday (Tuesday) we had someone have a seizure just outside the front door,” Dwyer said.

Dwyer also said, in his experience, synthetic drug users do appear somewhat different that people who abuse other types of drugs. He said they’re often more nervous and hyperactive and sometimes have the odor of the smokes herbal product.

One treatment counselor, Matt Rocca of the St. Luke’s Chemical Dependence Unit, said there really isn’t a separate treatment approach for synthetic drug users. More counselors feel addition is addiction.

“There might be a few unique things we want to address. But there will be more of the similarities. There will be that acceptance of severity — do they understand the full impact any substance has had on their life?” Rocca said.

Dwyer, the mission director, said one problem with the fight against synthetic drugs is as soon as authorities declare on version a controlled substance manufacturers tweak the formula and produce something slightly different they can resume selling. However he also said a raid like the one that happened Wednesday can have positive benefits for weeks or even months. He said even those retailers that weren’t raided tend to take products off the shelves for a while. And synthetic drugs just aren’t as available to users for a time.

l Comments: (319) 368-8611;

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