The New High School Drugs

The New High School Drugs

High school students are out of school for the next two weeks for Winter Break. They are looking forward to spending time with their friends at school and those returning from college. This usually means a lot of late nights and parties. Many parents are concerned about the challenges their children will experience in these environments. A common one is peer pressure and drugs. As a psychotherapist who treats teenagers, I hear about what is going on with teenagers and what they are doing. I have been hearing from many teens about new designer drugs they are taking. Many people assume teenagers are primarily using marijuana. However, teenagers are looking for new drugs and ways to modify how they use marijuana. These new drugs can be very dangerous, even deadly. However, many teenagers are not aware of the dangers and risks they are taking.

Winter break is only two weeks so many teens will want to get in as many parties as they can. During winter break for many teenagers this means partying with old and new friends. Drugs are often part of these parties. One major problem facing teens is the fact that many Emergency Room physicians cannot keep up with all the new drugs teenagers are using. Therefore, if a teenager ends up in the Emergency Room due to overdosing or having a bad reaction to one of these new drugs, a teenager may die before an Emergency Room physician determines what the teenager took and how to treat it. The show The Good Doctor had an episode which addressed this issue. The teen had used, Molly, not a new drug but because there were so many options, the teenager almost died before they could determine how to treat him.

Recently I read an article by Angela Chen. The article discusses these new dangerous drugs and how deadly these drugs can be. I have included her article below so parents can be aware of the dangers facing their teenagers. Hopefully, parents will also take this opportunity to discuss this issue with their teenagers.

On a July day a little over a year ago, over 30 people collapsed on a street in Brooklyn. They lay on the ground, vomiting down their shirts, twitching and blank-faced. Some, half-naked, made jerking movements with their arms, eyes rolled back. Others groaned and clutched onto fire hydrants to try to stay upright. Witnesses said the scene was like The Walking Dead. Headlines claimed that people had turned into “zombies,” while police said that the 33 affected were lucky to be alive.

All had smoked an “herbal incense” product called AK-47 24 Karat Gold. Eighteen people were sent to the hospital by ambulance. The situation had all the signs of a drug overdose, and so doctors ordered the usual tests: blood count, urine analysis, heart rate monitoring.

The first patient tested was a 28-year-old man who was slow to respond, but otherwise showed few clear signs of trauma. Heart sounds: normal. Blood count: normal. His lungs were clear and there were no major neurological problems, no excessive sweating or skin lesions. He tested negative for opiates, cocaine, amphetamines. Nothing came up.

The case went to the Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Agency. They knew who to call to get a second opinion. They packed blood and urine samples on dry ice and shipped them to a small lab 3,000 miles away in San Francisco, run by toxicologist Roy Gerona. If anyone in the country could figure out what was in 24 Karat Gold, it would be him.

Forty years ago, drugs had easy names: cocaine, meth, heroin. Today, the names can read like an ingredients list for a chemistry class: 5F-AMB, PX-2, MDMB-CHMINACA. Today’s designer drugs are made by synthesizing chemicals and hoping they give you a high that’s strong enough to be worth it, but not strong enough to send you to the hospital.

Designer drugs are volatile. If you tweak just one molecule, you can get an entirely differently substance, one you hadn’t bargained for. They’re also easy to get. There’s no shortage of “research chemicals” vendors on the dark web are willing to sell. And they’re growing more popular. These so-called “novel psychoactive substances” entered the mainstream in 2009. That year, according to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, there were about 100 of these substances reported; six years later, there were nearly 500. Because designer drugs don’t show up on traditional drug tests, they’re hard to track and identify. It’s a public health problem that requires a special set of skills to handle.

One of the most prominent categories of designer drugs are those intended to mimic marijuana, called synthetic cannabinoids. Marijuana, or cannabis, is widely considered one of the safest drugs, but synthetic cannabinoids are some of the most dangerous synthetic drugs. The Global Drug Survey (GDS) found that last year, for the fourth year running, the risk of seeking emergency medical treatment was higher after using synthetic weed than for any other drug.

When you smoke a regular joint, a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) travels through your blood. It binds with receptors called CB1 and CB2. Because of the structure, there’s “kind of a limit on how stoned you can get,” says Adam Winstock, a London-based psychiatrist who administers the GDS. If you’re smoking a popular cannabinoid like K2 Spice, a chemical travels through your blood, but this time, it’s not THC. It’s something else that also binds with CB1 and CB2 — but unlike with regular weed, we don’t know exactly how these chemicals bind, especially when they’re illicit drugs from the black market. This mystery makes synthetic marijuana likely to lead to “much more extreme responses,” like seizures and psychosis, according to Winstock.

Synthetic cannabinoids originated in a quest to create a better pain medication. A Clemson University chemist named John W. Huffman synthesized hundreds of compounds in an attempt to find a better painkiller, but often created incredibly psychoactive substances with no medicinal properties at all. When he published the results of these compounds — called JWH compounds, after his initials — he made the information available to be copied.

There are more than 300 JWH compounds alone, and around 2004, labs in China began studying old research papers, synthesizing the compounds and distributing them as “herbal incense” products. K2 Spice itself — often partly based off the JWH-018 compound — started in China, became popular in Germany around 2008, and entered the US around 2009.

Labs can also turn to the expired patents — patents that are rich fodder, even if (or perhaps because) there was a good reason said drugs never made it to market. It’s nearly impossible to figure out how to shut down the overseas labs producing these drugs. As soon as you ban one substance, the labs move on to another.

Gerona, a toxicologist with gray hair styled in an undercut, was the one who received the biological samples from the DEA. From a small lab in the Medical Sciences Building at the University of California, San Francisco, Gerona says he and his team are playing a “cat and mouse game” with illicit international drug manufacturers. When an overdose happens, Gerona’s team tries to identify the drug in question — often synthetic substances no one has seen before. But the lab goes one further: Gerona’s lab attempts to identify and classify these substances before the mass overdoses even happen.

Inside, the lab is meticulously neat: rows of spotless tables are covered in bottles with orange rubber caps, all labeled with orange duct tape, and small gray centrifuges. A window overlooking a courtyard has molecular structures scribbled over it in pink and green marker. Near the door sits an enormous freezer, filled with thousands of brightly colored, frost-covered boxes of drug samples kept at -112 degrees Fahrenheit.

Gerona launched his toxicology lab in 2010, in partnership with the San Francisco Poison Control Center. The date wasn’t a coincidence; he says that 2010 was the year that a designer drug called “bath salts” began flooding the market. “Bath salts” is a blanket term for a group of designer drugs made from stimulants; they create a euphoric high like MDMA, sometimes with hallucinations thrown in. The drugs usually come in powdered and capsule form, and can cause freak-outs that were well-documented on YouTube at the time. The most famous of these was a viral story of a 31-year-old Miami resident attacking and then eating a homeless man. (Scientists dispute the drugs’ role.)

For users and the DEA, the spike in bath salts use was a nightmare. For Gerona, the increased interest in designer drugs led to more work and more samples from around the country. Eventually, the lab caught the notice of both Michael Schwartz, a toxicologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and DEA pharmacologist Jordan Trecki. A collaboration between Gerona’s lab and the DEA was formed. (Neither the DEA nor the CDC responded to repeated requests for comment.)

The first step in doing an analysis at Gerona’s lab is getting the sample — urine, blood or, rarely, a tiny bit of drug itself — shipped over on dry ice. In traditional drug testing, you check to see if the sample matches any of the known substances: marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and so on. They match, or they don’t. Designer drugs, almost by definition, are made of chemical combinations we haven’t seen before. They almost never match traditional databases, and the chemists often don’t know what they’re looking for. So Gerona’s lab gathers as much information about the substance as possible.

A tiny vial of the biological sample — usually plasma, the colorless part of blood — goes into a bulky, printer-like machine. That machine is called a liquid chromatography mass spectrometer, and very crudely put, it separates out all the different parts of the plasma by mass. (Think of it like an extremely sensitive centrifuge.) That process makes it easier to identify chemicals, and the mass spectrometer then spits out the different measurements in a computer chart with peaks and valleys called a chromatogram.

Then, says Axel Adams, a graduate student in Gerona’s lab, you turn to the so-called “prophetic library.”

“ RESEARCHES LOOK FOR POSTS ABOUT DRUGS ON SUBREDDITS LIKE R/RESEARCHCHEMICALS

Gerona’s “prophetic library,” about three years in the making, is a detailed catalog of already synthesized variants that his team believes is going to be the next big street drug. The library was made possible with the help of Samuel Banister, a synthetic chemist at Stanford University. Banister synthesizes variants of popular street drugs and takes down their chemical information to create “reference standards.” Synthesizing can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks; the lab now has almost 150 variants on file. It’s a side job for Banister, but at one point, he says, “I was pumping out five to 10 a week.” The final products look like white crystalline solids and are kept in drawers in the lab, ready for when a case like AK-47 24 Karat Gold comes along.

In addition, lab members spend hours each week on drug forums, researching trends. It’s more of an art than a science. Researches look for posts about drugs on subreddits like r/researchchemicals. They reference surveys like the Global Drug Survey and survey “trip reports” from experiential documentation sites like Erowid and PsychonautWiki.

They look for terms like synthetic pot, K2, Spice, and sometimes, scientific terms like “cannabinoids,” or a specific popular class of cannabinoids, like “FUBINACA” or “JWH compounds.” Often, the posts themselves will include the name of the chemical. Gerona has ordered drugs off the dark web. In one case, the invoice billed him for “cosmetics,” and the package included lipstick, fake eyelashes, and tabs labeled “powder.” The “powder,” unsurprisingly, turned out to be drugs. But most of the time, the drugs in the powder were not the drug that was ordered.

“ THE INVOICE BILLED HIM FOR “COSMETICS,” AND THE PACKAGE INCLUDED LIPSTICK, FAKE EYELASHES, AND TABS LABELED “POWDER”

If there is a match because the compound is already in the library, finding the right variant is “only going to take 15 minutes,” says Gerona. “Otherwise, it could take a week, or it could not be solved.”

Adams checked the results of a blood sample tied to AK-47 24 Karat Gold against the prophetic library. The computer pulled up a chart that indicated a line — jagged, up and down — that shows the mass of the components of AK-47 24 Karat Gold, versus the same information for AMB-FUBINACA.

Drugs don’t pass through the body untouched. Once they’re ingested, the body processes the compounds. So by the time they’re in the blood or urine, it’s not exactly the same compound as the drug that was ingested. It’s hard enough to find a reference standard for the original compound; it’s even more difficult to find a reference standard for the possible variants. In the case of AMB-FUBINACA, the chemical in the biological sample from Brooklyn wasn’t the parent compound. It was a derivative. Luckily, Banister had already synthesized that variant, too.

The peaks and valleys of the two lines of AK-47 24 Karat Gold and AMB-FUBINACA matched up precisely. It took the team only seven days to identify the substance in the Brooklyn case — and most of that time was spent waiting for the sample to get there.

Gerona’s lab has worked on cases across the country, from New York City to Sacramento to Colorado. The number of cases varies. Sometimes, they’ll get 15 to 25 samples a month. One Mississippi case involving synthetic cannabinoids resulted in over 400 samples. The average turnaround on results is about six months, says Adams. That’s not good enough for Gerona.

And it’s not likely that the problem will go away. Marijuana legalization advocates claim that people will stop with the synthetic stuff once the real thing is okay. But that’s not true in the experience of Andrew Monte, a clinical toxicologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who collaborates with Gerona’s lab. Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, but he sees patients who are on these synthetic compounds anyway. Monte’s team has surveyed people who come into the ER and even set up at music festivals to ask attendees questions. Synthetic drug users are “taking it for a different reason, to get a different high,” Monte says. “They’re really looking for something different than what pot gives, the same way you might choose cocaine over pot or meth over pot.”

“ ONE MISSISSIPPI CASE INVOLVING SYNTHETIC CANNABINOIDS RESULTED IN OVER 400 SAMPLES

To help address this problem, in 2016 Gerona started a new research consortium called P SCAN, or the Psychoactive Surveillance Consortium and Analysis Network. (Yes, the double entendre is intended.) They’re working with about 10 poison control centers in places like Kansas and Colorado. They’ve had more than 100 cases referred to them and are writing up case reports and manuscripts. (The 24 Karat Gold case was published by the New England Journal of Medicine.)

P SCAN will continue to do the surveillance work Gerona has been doing for years, but also create a database of clinical data connected to the specific synthetic drugs they track and discover. Think of it like a medical version of Erowid. This way, the next time there’s an outbreak like the one in Brooklyn, investigators and researchers can look at specific physical indicators (heart rate, respiratory information, neurological information, and more) and say, “Ah, this matches the symptoms of AMB-FUBINACA” — all without shipping samples across the country.

But even with P SCAN and the prophetic library, the task is huge. “The identity of a lab needs to constantly expand and rework in order for it to stay relevant,” says Gerona.

Gerona is a biochemist by training. Before launching his lab, he didn’t know anything about Spice, or AK-47 Gold, or the dark net. But now, Gerona says, “I have no other choice but to really learn about it, so that I am relevant and retain my relevance in the field.” He’s hoping to work with people in technology to automate this “market research” to glean new insights and make the prediction process even faster. “It would be so great if we could predict the drugs coming in with more accuracy, instead of after people are hurt,” he says.

Weeding out designer drugs is a Sisyphean task, Gerona admits. It may be impossible to shut down the overseas labs, but he wants to have even better methods for predicting what’s going to get big and then, instantly identifying the substances. He compares the endless drug variations to nature: the cold virus is still around because it changes all the time. HIV has never been cured because it continues mutating. “In a sense, they’re reinventing themselves all the time, so reinvention is key to persistence. As long as you’re reinventing yourself, you can persist.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers. He treats teenagers with drug issues and has seen many end up in the Emergency Room because teenagers think they are the experts. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work or his private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3.

Advertisements

Why Are We Ashamed about Mental Health?

Why Are We Ashamed about Mental Health?

When people hear about mental health they often think about people sleeping in the street or eating out of garbage cans. However, this is not the reality. Mental health issues are the same as physical health issues. They need to be treated. Diabetes is caused by a chemical imbalance, the chemical being insulin. Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. The amount of serotonin is off for a person dealing with depression. Therefore why should we treat them differently?

This stigma does result in people succeeding at Suicide and it can destroy families because someone does not seek mental health care. If they commit suicide, this impacts the entire family. The shooting in Thousand Oaks is an example of what can happen when people don’t receive mental health care. The mother said she had been afraid of her son for a long time and tried to seek help. The mother lived for years in fear of her son and now she has to live with the fact that her son murdered 12 people and injured many more. All because of the negative stigma associated with mental health care and the lack of mental health care.

I have included a link to a video by Heads Together where a husband and wife discusses how the stigma associated with mental health impacted their family. https://www.facebook.com/201404780244288/posts/671244049927023/

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. For more information about Dr. Rubino visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.

Risks Teenagers Take Going to Underground Paries

Risks Teenagers Take Going to Underground Paries

Many of us still remember and are grieving over the terrible fire in the Oakland Warehouse which resulted in a tragic loss of many lives. Many young lives were lost needlessly and many families and friends are still grieving because they lost a loved one. Unfortunately, this was a tragedy waiting to happen and could happen again. Summer is coming very soon and many teenagers will be going to similar “underground parties.”

These “underground parties” are very common with teenagers and college students. The place of the parties are usually posted on Facebook or other social media sites that teenagers use the day before the party. Typically these parties occur in warehouses in Oakland and San Francisco. The party organizers do not get permits nor do they consider safety. Typically at these parties there is a lot of alcohol and drugs such as ecstasy, pink, spice, wax, heroin etc. Therefore, the party organizers are looking for out of the way locations were they are unlikely to be detected by the police.

Many teenagers view these parties as fun because of the dancing and because typically these parties start late at night and go until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. Also since it is undergone if they want to drink or use any of the drugs they can. All they need is the money to buy it and no one will stop them.

Typically a teen will be looking on social media to find the underground parties for the weekend. Often while online they meet other people who are going and they often make plans to go with someone they just met online. Since the parties start usually after 10pm many parents don’t know if their teenager is going to an underground party. The teen usually says they are spending the night at a friends house and they sneak out of the friends house to go to the party.

I have had many teenagers tell me about these parties. When I point out the risk such as they don’t know anything about who set it up, the safety of the area or the warehouse, the safety of the people since they just met these people and the safety of the drugs since they have no idea about what they are really taking or drinking. Teenagers tend to say that I am overly concerned and there is nothing to worry about because they have gone to these parties before.

However, the fire that occurred in the Oakland warehouse shows there is something to worry about. The organizer had no concerns about safety nor is he taking responsibility for the fire and what happened. Furthermore, since it was done secretly no one knows for sure who was there and if they are safe or not. I saw a page on Facebook for people to check in as safe. However, this doesn’t help the families who are waiting to hear about a loved one or who lost a loved one.

Parents this is an excellent time to sit down with your teenager and talk about these “underground parties.” Teenagers have a lot of free time during the summer and they feel entitled to be able to party because they were in school all year. Discuss the dangers associated with these parties. Teenagers may argue about the fact that these parties are safe, but point to the Oakland party as an example that the parties are not safe. Discuss with your teen other places they can go to and hear the tech and dance music and where they can go and dance.

Parents we also need to put pressure on the authorities to hold the owner of these warehouses and party organizers responsible for what happens at these parties. The Oakland fire was a horrific event. Also many kids overdose at these parties. Many of these teens die because no one wants to call the police or everyone is so busy dancing and using that they don’t notice if someone has overdosed. Again, the organizer is never held responsible.

One last point, parents when you discuss the “underground parties” with your teenagers use the Oakland fire as proof that bad things can and do happen. Many teenagers feel safe taking chances with their lives because they don’t believe anything will happen to them. The tragedy in Oakland proves something can happen.

This was a terrible tragedy and hopefully we can prevent others from occurring in the future.

Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience working with teenagers and learning about their online activities. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.

New Drugs Teenagers are Using

New Drugs Teenagers are Using

As a psychotherapist who treats teenagers, I hear about what is going on with teenagers and what they are doing. I have been hearing from many teens about new designer drugs they are taking. Many people assume teenagers are primarily using marijuana. However, teenagers are looking for new drugs and ways to modify how they use marijuana. These new drugs can be very dangerous, even deadly. However, many teenagers are not aware of the dangers.

Spring Break is occurring and summer break is around the corner and for many teenagers this means partying and using drugs. One major issue is many Emergency Room physicians cannot keep up with all the new drugs. Therefore, if a teenager ends up in the Emergency Room due to overdosing or having a bad reaction to one of these new drugs, a teenager may die before an Emergency Room physician determines what the teenager took and how to treat it. The show The Good Doctor recently had an episode which addressed this issue. The teen had used, Molly, not a new drug but because there were so many options, the teenager almost died before they could determine how to treat him.

Recently I read an article by Angela Chen. The article discusses these new dangerous drugs and how deadly these drugs can be. I have included her article below so parents can be aware of the dangers facing their teenagers. Hopefully, parents will also take this opportunity to discuss this issue with their teenagers.

On a July day a little over a year ago, over 30 people collapsed on a street in Brooklyn. They lay on the ground, vomiting down their shirts, twitching and blank-faced. Some, half-naked, made jerking movements with their arms, eyes rolled back. Others groaned and clutched onto fire hydrants to try to stay upright. Witnesses said the scene was like The Walking Dead. Headlines claimed that people had turned into “zombies,” while police said that the 33 affected were lucky to be alive.

All had smoked an “herbal incense” product called AK-47 24 Karat Gold. Eighteen people were sent to the hospital by ambulance. The situation had all the signs of a drug overdose, and so doctors ordered the usual tests: blood count, urine analysis, heart rate monitoring.

The first patient tested was a 28-year-old man who was slow to respond, but otherwise showed few clear signs of trauma. Heart sounds: normal. Blood count: normal. His lungs were clear and there were no major neurological problems, no excessive sweating or skin lesions. He tested negative for opiates, cocaine, amphetamines. Nothing came up.

The case went to the Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Agency. They knew who to call to get a second opinion. They packed blood and urine samples on dry ice and shipped them to a small lab 3,000 miles away in San Francisco, run by toxicologist Roy Gerona. If anyone in the country could figure out what was in 24 Karat Gold, it would be him.

Forty years ago, drugs had easy names: cocaine, meth, heroin. Today, the names can read like an ingredients list for a chemistry class: 5F-AMB, PX-2, MDMB-CHMINACA. Today’s designer drugs are made by synthesizing chemicals and hoping they give you a high that’s strong enough to be worth it, but not strong enough to send you to the hospital.

Designer drugs are volatile. If you tweak just one molecule, you can get an entirely differently substance, one you hadn’t bargained for. They’re also easy to get. There’s no shortage of “research chemicals” vendors on the dark web are willing to sell. And they’re growing more popular. These so-called “novel psychoactive substances” entered the mainstream in 2009. That year, according to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, there were about 100 of these substances reported; six years later, there were nearly 500. Because designer drugs don’t show up on traditional drug tests, they’re hard to track and identify. It’s a public health problem that requires a special set of skills to handle.

One of the most prominent categories of designer drugs are those intended to mimic marijuana, called synthetic cannabinoids. Marijuana, or cannabis, is widely considered one of the safest drugs, but synthetic cannabinoids are some of the most dangerous synthetic drugs. The Global Drug Survey (GDS) found that last year, for the fourth year running, the risk of seeking emergency medical treatment was higher after using synthetic weed than for any other drug.

When you smoke a regular joint, a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) travels through your blood. It binds with receptors called CB1 and CB2. Because of the structure, there’s “kind of a limit on how stoned you can get,” says Adam Winstock, a London-based psychiatrist who administers the GDS. If you’re smoking a popular cannabinoid like K2 Spice, a chemical travels through your blood, but this time, it’s not THC. It’s something else that also binds with CB1 and CB2 — but unlike with regular weed, we don’t know exactly how these chemicals bind, especially when they’re illicit drugs from the black market. This mystery makes synthetic marijuana likely to lead to “much more extreme responses,” like seizures and psychosis, according to Winstock.

Synthetic cannabinoids originated in a quest to create a better pain medication. A Clemson University chemist named John W. Huffman synthesized hundreds of compounds in an attempt to find a better painkiller, but often created incredibly psychoactive substances with no medicinal properties at all. When he published the results of these compounds — called JWH compounds, after his initials — he made the information available to be copied.

There are more than 300 JWH compounds alone, and around 2004, labs in China began studying old research papers, synthesizing the compounds and distributing them as “herbal incense” products. K2 Spice itself — often partly based off the JWH-018 compound — started in China, became popular in Germany around 2008, and entered the US around 2009.

Labs can also turn to the expired patents — patents that are rich fodder, even if (or perhaps because) there was a good reason said drugs never made it to market. It’s nearly impossible to figure out how to shut down the overseas labs producing these drugs. As soon as you ban one substance, the labs move on to another.

Gerona, a toxicologist with gray hair styled in an undercut, was the one who received the biological samples from the DEA. From a small lab in the Medical Sciences Building at the University of California, San Francisco, Gerona says he and his team are playing a “cat and mouse game” with illicit international drug manufacturers. When an overdose happens, Gerona’s team tries to identify the drug in question — often synthetic substances no one has seen before. But the lab goes one further: Gerona’s lab attempts to identify and classify these substances before the mass overdoses even happen.

Inside, the lab is meticulously neat: rows of spotless tables are covered in bottles with orange rubber caps, all labeled with orange duct tape, and small gray centrifuges. A window overlooking a courtyard has molecular structures scribbled over it in pink and green marker. Near the door sits an enormous freezer, filled with thousands of brightly colored, frost-covered boxes of drug samples kept at -112 degrees Fahrenheit.

Gerona launched his toxicology lab in 2010, in partnership with the San Francisco Poison Control Center. The date wasn’t a coincidence; he says that 2010 was the year that a designer drug called “bath salts” began flooding the market. “Bath salts” is a blanket term for a group of designer drugs made from stimulants; they create a euphoric high like MDMA, sometimes with hallucinations thrown in. The drugs usually come in powdered and capsule form, and can cause freak-outs that were well-documented on YouTube at the time. The most famous of these was a viral story of a 31-year-old Miami resident attacking and then eating a homeless man. (Scientists dispute the drugs’ role.)

For users and the DEA, the spike in bath salts use was a nightmare. For Gerona, the increased interest in designer drugs led to more work and more samples from around the country. Eventually, the lab caught the notice of both Michael Schwartz, a toxicologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and DEA pharmacologist Jordan Trecki. A collaboration between Gerona’s lab and the DEA was formed. (Neither the DEA nor the CDC responded to repeated requests for comment.)

The first step in doing an analysis at Gerona’s lab is getting the sample — urine, blood or, rarely, a tiny bit of drug itself — shipped over on dry ice. In traditional drug testing, you check to see if the sample matches any of the known substances: marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and so on. They match, or they don’t. Designer drugs, almost by definition, are made of chemical combinations we haven’t seen before. They almost never match traditional databases, and the chemists often don’t know what they’re looking for. So Gerona’s lab gathers as much information about the substance as possible.

A tiny vial of the biological sample — usually plasma, the colorless part of blood — goes into a bulky, printer-like machine. That machine is called a liquid chromatography mass spectrometer, and very crudely put, it separates out all the different parts of the plasma by mass. (Think of it like an extremely sensitive centrifuge.) That process makes it easier to identify chemicals, and the mass spectrometer then spits out the different measurements in a computer chart with peaks and valleys called a chromatogram.

Then, says Axel Adams, a graduate student in Gerona’s lab, you turn to the so-called “prophetic library.”

“ RESEARCHES LOOK FOR POSTS ABOUT DRUGS ON SUBREDDITS LIKE R/RESEARCHCHEMICALS

Gerona’s “prophetic library,” about three years in the making, is a detailed catalog of already synthesized variants that his team believes is going to be the next big street drug. The library was made possible with the help of Samuel Banister, a synthetic chemist at Stanford University. Banister synthesizes variants of popular street drugs and takes down their chemical information to create “reference standards.” Synthesizing can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks; the lab now has almost 150 variants on file. It’s a side job for Banister, but at one point, he says, “I was pumping out five to 10 a week.” The final products look like white crystalline solids and are kept in drawers in the lab, ready for when a case like AK-47 24 Karat Gold comes along.

In addition, lab members spend hours each week on drug forums, researching trends. It’s more of an art than a science. Researches look for posts about drugs on subreddits like r/researchchemicals. They reference surveys like the Global Drug Survey and survey “trip reports” from experiential documentation sites like Erowid and PsychonautWiki.

They look for terms like synthetic pot, K2, Spice, and sometimes, scientific terms like “cannabinoids,” or a specific popular class of cannabinoids, like “FUBINACA” or “JWH compounds.” Often, the posts themselves will include the name of the chemical. Gerona has ordered drugs off the dark web. In one case, the invoice billed him for “cosmetics,” and the package included lipstick, fake eyelashes, and tabs labeled “powder.” The “powder,” unsurprisingly, turned out to be drugs. But most of the time, the drugs in the powder were not the drug that was ordered.

“ THE INVOICE BILLED HIM FOR “COSMETICS,” AND THE PACKAGE INCLUDED LIPSTICK, FAKE EYELASHES, AND TABS LABELED “POWDER”

If there is a match because the compound is already in the library, finding the right variant is “only going to take 15 minutes,” says Gerona. “Otherwise, it could take a week, or it could not be solved.”

Adams checked the results of a blood sample tied to AK-47 24 Karat Gold against the prophetic library. The computer pulled up a chart that indicated a line — jagged, up and down — that shows the mass of the components of AK-47 24 Karat Gold, versus the same information for AMB-FUBINACA.

Drugs don’t pass through the body untouched. Once they’re ingested, the body processes the compounds. So by the time they’re in the blood or urine, it’s not exactly the same compound as the drug that was ingested. It’s hard enough to find a reference standard for the original compound; it’s even more difficult to find a reference standard for the possible variants. In the case of AMB-FUBINACA, the chemical in the biological sample from Brooklyn wasn’t the parent compound. It was a derivative. Luckily, Banister had already synthesized that variant, too.

The peaks and valleys of the two lines of AK-47 24 Karat Gold and AMB-FUBINACA matched up precisely. It took the team only seven days to identify the substance in the Brooklyn case — and most of that time was spent waiting for the sample to get there.

Gerona’s lab has worked on cases across the country, from New York City to Sacramento to Colorado. The number of cases varies. Sometimes, they’ll get 15 to 25 samples a month. One Mississippi case involving synthetic cannabinoids resulted in over 400 samples. The average turnaround on results is about six months, says Adams. That’s not good enough for Gerona.

And it’s not likely that the problem will go away. Marijuana legalization advocates claim that people will stop with the synthetic stuff once the real thing is okay. But that’s not true in the experience of Andrew Monte, a clinical toxicologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who collaborates with Gerona’s lab. Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, but he sees patients who are on these synthetic compounds anyway. Monte’s team has surveyed people who come into the ER and even set up at music festivals to ask attendees questions. Synthetic drug users are “taking it for a different reason, to get a different high,” Monte says. “They’re really looking for something different than what pot gives, the same way you might choose cocaine over pot or meth over pot.”

“ ONE MISSISSIPPI CASE INVOLVING SYNTHETIC CANNABINOIDS RESULTED IN OVER 400 SAMPLES

To help address this problem, in 2016 Gerona started a new research consortium called P SCAN, or the Psychoactive Surveillance Consortium and Analysis Network. (Yes, the double entendre is intended.) They’re working with about 10 poison control centers in places like Kansas and Colorado. They’ve had more than 100 cases referred to them and are writing up case reports and manuscripts. (The 24 Karat Gold case was published by the New England Journal of Medicine.)

P SCAN will continue to do the surveillance work Gerona has been doing for years, but also create a database of clinical data connected to the specific synthetic drugs they track and discover. Think of it like a medical version of Erowid. This way, the next time there’s an outbreak like the one in Brooklyn, investigators and researchers can look at specific physical indicators (heart rate, respiratory information, neurological information, and more) and say, “Ah, this matches the symptoms of AMB-FUBINACA” — all without shipping samples across the country.

But even with P SCAN and the prophetic library, the task is huge. “The identity of a lab needs to constantly expand and rework in order for it to stay relevant,” says Gerona.

Gerona is a biochemist by training. Before launching his lab, he didn’t know anything about Spice, or AK-47 Gold, or the dark net. But now, Gerona says, “I have no other choice but to really learn about it, so that I am relevant and retain my relevance in the field.” He’s hoping to work with people in technology to automate this “market research” to glean new insights and make the prediction process even faster. “It would be so great if we could predict the drugs coming in with more accuracy, instead of after people are hurt,” he says.

Weeding out designer drugs is a Sisyphean task, Gerona admits. It may be impossible to shut down the overseas labs, but he wants to have even better methods for predicting what’s going to get big and then, instantly identifying the substances. He compares the endless drug variations to nature: the cold virus is still around because it changes all the time. HIV has never been cured because it continues mutating. “In a sense, they’re reinventing themselves all the time, so reinvention is key to persistence. As long as you’re reinventing yourself, you can persist.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers. He treats teenagers with drug issues and has seen many end up in the Emergency Room because teenagers think they are the experts. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work or his private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3.

Signs of Teenage Depression

Signs of Teenage Depression

I often have parents ask me what warning signs they need to watch for in their teenagers that may indicate their teen is depressed. I recently ready an article by Dr. Jerome Yelder, Sr. He did a very good job of breaking down the basic symptoms adults and teens experience when they are depressed. I have included the list for parents below so they know what to watch for in their teenagers.

Sleep Problems

Depression can affect your body as well as your mind. Trouble falling or staying asleep is common in people who are depressed. But some may find that they get too much shut-eye.

Chest Pain

It can be a sign of heart, lung, or stomach problems, so see your doctor to rule out those causes. Sometimes, though, it’s a symptom of depression.

Depression can also raise your risk of heart disease. Plus, people who’ve had heart attacks are more likely to be depressed.

Fatigue and Exhaustion

If you feel so tired that you don’t have energy for everyday tasks — even when you sleep or rest a lot — it may be a sign that you’re depressed. Depression and fatigue together tend to make both conditions seem worse.

Aching Muscles and Joints

When you live with ongoing pain it can raise your risk of depression.

Depression may also lead to pain because the two conditions share chemical messengers in the brain. People who are depressed are three times as likely to get regular pain.

Digestive Problems

Our brains and digestive systems are strongly connected, which is why many of us get stomachaches or nausea when we’re stressed or worried. Depression can get you in your gut too — causing nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, or constipation.

Headaches

One study shows that people with major depression are three times more likely to have migraines, and people with migraines are five times more likely to get depressed.

Changes in Appetite or Weight

Some people feel less hungry when they get depressed. Others can’t stop eating. The result can be weight gain or loss, along with lack of energy. Depression has been linked to eating disorders like bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating.

Back Pain

When it hurts you there on a regular basis, it may contribute to depression. And people who are depressed may be four times more likely to get intense, disabling neck or back pain.

Agitated and Restless

Sleep problems or other depression symptoms can make you feel this way. Men are more likely than women to be irritable when they’re depressed.

Sexual Problems

Hopefully your teenager is not sexually active. While they may not have the sexual problems adults do, when they are depressed, they may show a lack of interest in dating or relationships and tend to isolate. They also may feel they are sexually unattractive.

If you’re depressed, you might lose your interest in sex. Some prescription drugs that treat depression can also take away your drive and affect performance. Talk to your doctor about your medicine options.

Exercise

Research suggests that if you do it regularly, it releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good, improve your mood, and reduce your sensitivity to pain. Although physical activity alone won’t cure depression, it can help ease it over the long term. If you’re depressed, it can sometimes be hard to get the energy to exercise. But try to remember that it can ease fatigue and help you sleep better.

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers and children. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work and private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or on Twitter @RubinoTherapy

Children can be Traumatized by World Events

Children can be Traumatized by World Events

We have all heard about the tragedies in our Country. The school shooting in Parkland, Florida where 17 students were killed and today there was another school shooting. Since these stories are being covered almost 24 hours a day by the news, it makes sense to remind parents about how they may want to respond to their children and how children are impacted by these tragedies. In addition to the school shootings, children are hearing how President Trump is reacting to North Korea and the possibility that we might go to war. I have been seeing more and more teenagers who are complaining of anxiety and depression. Many of these teenagers are also afraid to go to school too. I have also been seeing more teenagers being placed on home/hospital for school. This means a teacher comes to the house once a week instead of the teenager going to school. This is an alarming trend.

I have also been hearing more teenagers talking about needing to carry a knife with them for their own safety. They tell me you never know when someone might try to attack you. These are not juvenile delinquents or gang members, these are average teenagers. They come from healthy families and are doing well in school and not involved in drugs. This need they feel to protect themselves is an alarming trend.

However, if you take a step back and look at what these children have seen over their lives it makes sense. Most of these teenagers were very young on 9/11, or were not even born yet, when the United States was attacked. Since 9/11 they have also seen two wars and heard on the nightly news about numerous terrorist alerts or attacks around the world and here in the United States. They also hear how the TSA are putting tighter security on travelers and places such as Disneyland are increasing security due to concerns about terrorism.

And now, children are hearing all day long how we are on the verge of having a nuclear war. Our President is making threats that are terrifying everyone, including children. Furthermore, we then have the attacks in North Carolina, the church in Texas and the high school in Parkland, Florida. As a result, children are afraid that the end of the world is around the corner. They also do not feel safe or protected when their requests for sane gun laws are ignored by our government.

In addition to terrorism, this is the first generation growing up with mass shootings. According to ABC News from 2000 to 2015 there have been 140 mass shootings and since January 1, 2016, there have been more mass shootings than the previous 15 years. According to the statistics on mass shootings every day 36 people are killed in the United States by a gun. This does not include suicides. For the group we are discussing, suicide is the third leading cause of death for children between 10 and 18 years old and using a gun is one of the most popular methods of suicide. Also because of school shootings, students have seen increased security on their school campuses. Many campuses have metal detectors that students have to pass through as the enter the campus and there are police officers assigned to school sites due to the fear of violence.

Now, in addition to these facts stated above, think about what these children see on the news nightly and the video games they play daily. Anytime there is a shootings incident in the United States, or any where in the world, there is pretty much 24 hour news coverage of the event for days. Also when there are bombing or shootings in Europe there is 24 hour news coverage for days too. And now we have moved on to covering funerals. When the officers were killed in Dallas the memorial was televised nationally. If we look at the video games these kids are playing most have to do with killing and death. And since computer graphics have significantly improved, many of these games look real.

Additionally, children in the fourth and fifth grades are telling me they are worried about our election results. They have heard what the President has said and they are afraid other countries attacking us or that the President may start a war. Also Hispanic children who are legal citizens are afraid that they will be deported. This is a great deal for a nine or ten year old child to worry about.

Looking at all of this it begins to make sense why I am seeing more depressed and anxious teenagers who fear for their lives. These teenagers are being traumatized. They may not be experiencing the trauma personally but they are experiencing vicarious trauma. With all of the pictures on television and news reports and realistic video games these teenagers are playing, they are being traumatized vicariously. We have never had a generation of children grow up with the amount of trauma that these children are growing up with in the world. Even children growing up during World War II didn’t experience this amount of trauma. We didn’t have instant access to news nor did we have the graphic videos being shown by the news media.

The question now becomes, what do we do? Well we can not change the world unfortunately. However, we can monitor how much exposure our children are receiving to mass shootings when they occur. We can monitor the video games they are playing and limit access to games that focus on violence and killing. We can demand that the Congress pass gun control laws that make sense. No one needs an assault weapon to hunt a deer. We can also listen to what our children are saying and talk to them about their concerns. When a mass shooting occurs we can ask them how they are feeling, ask if they have any concerns and reassure them that you are there as their parents to protect them. Also try to become active. Look for sites by the Red Cross or the benefit concert for victims of the Manchester incident. Making a donation helps children to feel there is something they can do instead of just being a victim.

Finally, if you start to notice a change of attitude in your child that you are concerned about have talk to your child or have them assessed by a psychotherapist. I have included a link to an article by the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry which describes what parents can do http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Talking-To-Children-About-Terrorism-And-War-087.aspx. There is nothing to be ashamed of if a child needs therapy. We are exposing children to situations that most adults have problems dealing with themselves. You may find it very upsetting to talk to your child about these incidents. For these reasons and many more, if you feel your teenager has been traumatized vicariously make an appointment with a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teenagers and victims of trauma. Our kids have had to deal with a lot. We can help make it easier for them growing up in this time by providing the help they need.

Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers and is an expert treating victims of trauma and also performs Critical Incident Debriefing. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or on Twitter @RubinoTherapy.