K2 Drug Bedevils Oklahoma Authorities

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- The drug, K2, and its unassuming names -- synthetic marijuana or spice --bedevils its nasty effects, the Tulsa World reported.

Steve Kunzweiler, chief of the criminal division of the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office, said the harmful effects, ease of availability and misleading branding of K2 make it an alarming drug.

K2 frustrates law enforcement and prosecutors, he said, because people who manufacture it change its composition -- even if just slightly -- to stay a step ahead of the law with product that is legal.

But authorities could soon gain better control of the situation.

The list of K2 compositions deemed illegal by state lawmakers will balloon Nov. 1 with more than 150 identified concoctions marked as Schedule I controlled substances -- the most dangerous drugs. But more than that, a new subsection will list a series of banned chemical groups designed to address minor changes to already known K2 compounds.

Currently, 142 variations of K2 are listed in state law.

Kunzweiler likened K2's manufacturing to a person inside a garage spraying lawn mower clippings with whatever chemicals are at hand. Calling K2 "synthetic marijuana" is a misnomer because it creates a perception that the drug is less harmful than it is, he said.

"Call it `brain killer,' and maybe somebody might think twice before they consume it," Kunzweiler said.

The Drug Enforcement Administration defines K2 as a mixture of herbs and spices typically sprayed with synthetic compounds similar to THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The end result is generally marketed as incense or potpourri, but users most often smoke it or prepare it in an herbal drink.

Effects associated with K2 include hallucinations, paranoia, panic attacks, anxiety and giddiness, according to the DEA.

K2 can increase a person's heart rate or blood pressure, and cause convulsions, organ damage or death.

K2 has been an evolving battle since it first was written into state law in 2011. The first iteration of the subsection in the Schedule I statute saw 130 combinations of K2 banned.

Mistie Burris, criminalist supervisor at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, said the new subsection targets slightly modified compounds. If an unidentified compound is discovered and falls within one of several chemical groups, it is automatically scheduled as an illicit substance.

"It makes it so we don't have to wait for legislation to be revised," Burris said.

With the way state law is now, Kunzweiler said, authorities play catch-up with new variations that likely won't show up on drug tests. A new K2 combination has to be tested, identified and then worked through the legislative process before it can be banned.

Possession of a Schedule I controlled substance constitutes a felony. But if the K2 a person possesses isn't listed as a controlled substance, Kunzweiler said, it doesn't violate the law.

"You may not be charged with a criminal possession, but if what you're inhaling is affecting your ability in public, or driving a car, or taking care of your children, there's going to be an impact," Kunzweiler said. "The courts likely will be involved."

A case involving a 17-year-old boy who allegedly was impaired behind the wheel in a single-vehicle wreck recently came across Kunzweiler's desk. The teen crashed his vehicle at 56th Street North and Lewis Avenue after midnight on July 25, and a passenger was injured.

Kunzweiler said officers found indications of impairment, including a baggie containing a green leafy substance suspected to be K2 with a label of "Black Mr. Devil."

That incident could have been worse, he said, such as one from October 2013.

In mid-July, Jennifer Shriver was charged in Tulsa County District Court with second-degree felony murder, driving under the influence of intoxicants and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia.

Kunzweiler believes the 53-year-old Tahlequah woman's case is the first in the county in which a synthetic drug is involved in allegations of impaired driving that led to a fatality.

Prosecutors allege Shriver was high on marijuana and K2 on Oct. 10 when her Ford Ranger T-boned a Chevrolet Impala carrying a woman and four young girls at Fourth Place and Yale Avenue. An 8-year-old girl pinned in the wreckage had to be extricated and died two days later.

A person may walk into a corner store and see K2 sitting on a shelf like a bag of chips, said an evening narcotics sergeant with the Tulsa Police Department.

K2 isn't trafficked into Tulsa in the same quantities as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin, said the sergeant, who requested anonymity to avoid compromising his police assignments.

But its availability off shelves or from behind counters in everything from sandwich baggies to prepackaged bags and its misleading name help fuel its use, the sergeant said, particularly among teens and the homeless population.

K2 is sold in varying amounts from a couple of grams to ounces, he said, and K2 is more expensive than marijuana.

"You tell a kid it's legal to buy, and it's right there in the store -- they might be willing to pay the extra bit," the sergeant said.

The sergeant believes K2 could be a passing fad if the statute banning its variations becomes airtight. But education also is a key component, he said.

"Talk to your kids, talk to other members of your family, of your community . and explain to them what this really is," the sergeant said.
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Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com


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