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Keeping up with the wide-ranging, often bewildering array of designer drugs with appeal for young people is difficult enough, but parents often are the unwitting providers of a large supply of illegal drugs.

Parents, law enforcement officers, teachers and others met Thursday at the Lonoke Community Center to hear about the growing threats to area youth of designer drugs and abuse of prescription medicines.

"Teen Abuse of Bath Salts and Spices" was sponsored by the office of Circuit Judge Phillip Whiteaker, the Lonoke County Juvenile Department and The Bridgeway.

Speakers were state drug director Frances Flener and Chris Harrison, chief illicit-lab chemist for the Arkansas Crime Lab.

Whiteaker said that the problem of teens abusing drugs is not a new issue, but some of the substances being abused and their sources have changed. Information from the presentation would serve as an update of the substances available and of attitudes toward drugs in the home, and should be shared with the community, he said.

Flener spoke of the availability of prescription drugs and efforts to reduce the amount exposed to children, "our fastest growing type of drug abuse."

The prescription drug take-back event held Oct. 29 took in nearly six tons of unneeded, unwanted prescription drugs, she said, adding: "That is a lot of pills. That is 11,926 pounds taken out of the reach of Arkansas youth."

A recent Department of Human Services news release noted that the Arkansas Crime Lab estimates that to be about 166 million pills.

"All that was taken by armed escort to El Dorado where it was destroyed in an environmentally safe manner," Flener said.

The growth of prescription drug abuse is largely due to the misconception that prescription drugs are safe, she said. Used properly, the medications are beneficial, but when they are abused they are as unsafe as any illegal drug, she said.

Many people are not aware of the amount of drugs removed from home medicine cabinets by children, even visitors to homes, Flener said. Real estate agents now warn people preparing for open houses to remove and secure all medications, she said.

"There's going to be people coming, possibly just to get your pills," she said.

Flener warned that poorly controlled prescription medicines likely will lead to a resurgence of heroin use "if we don't get this pill situation under control."

Currently, youth who are abusing prescription medicines get three-fourths of their pills from people they know, Flener said.

"If medicines cannot be secured, get them out" of the house, she said.

The Crime Lab's Harrison said that possibly the gravest danger is the growth of designer drugs, many passing scrutiny because the federal Food and Drug Administration does not list them.

"There are hundreds of these compounds," he said.

One of the first seen was called K2, an alternative to marijuana now banned in Arkansas. It was a potpourri treated with a chemical that mimicked the effects of marijuana, Harrison said.

However, development of other chemicals means there is a new chemical ready to be "taken off the shelf" to replace banned substances, he said. The substances are readily available on the Internet, "and they are delivered to your door."

Fighting the trafficking of the compounds calls for community involvement, Harrison said. Many of the sales are done through "head shops," businesses catering to drug use that have sprung up throughout Arkansas, he said.

Another threat is what are called "bath salts" drugs, Harrison said. Mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV, are the ones most commonly found in Arkansas, he said. These are stimulants and can lead to psychological symptoms such as delusions, paranoia, psychosis and hallucinations.

"It is a white powder that looks just like cocaine or methamphetamine," he said.

Bath salts are a designer or synthetic drug. Ingesting them, "you could become psychotic, you could become suicidal... . This drug is scary," he said.

According to information from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, ""bath salts" are the newest fad to hit the shelves. The synthetic powder is sold legally online and in drug paraphernalia stores under a variety of names, chief among them Ivory Wave, Purple Wave, Red Dove, Blue Silk, Zoom, Bloom, Cloud Nine, Ocean Snow, Lunar Wave, Vanilla Sky, White Lightning, Scarface and Hurricane Charlie.

Dr. Nora D. Volkow, National Institute of Drug Abuse director, warns that "because these products are relatively new to the drug abuse scene, our knowledge about their precise chemical composition and short- and long-term effects is limited, yet the information we do have is worrisome and warrants a proactive stance to understand and minimize any potential dangers to the health of the public."

Harrison said the Drug Enforcement Administration recently used its authority to temporarily control the three most common bath-salts chemicals, ultimately to make it illegal to manufacture, possess or sale of the chemicals or anything contain them.

The temporary restriction, initiated in September, will be in effect for a year, he said.

Possibly the gravest danger is what is not known of the drugs and their effects, Harrison said. Heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine are illegal, but the effects are known; the drugs in bath salts "are completely unknown."

Those concerned about such substances should be on the lookout for sandwich bags containing white powder and labeled with warnings that the contents are not intended for internal use, Harrison said. Symptoms of abuse include agitation, paranoia and suicidal actions. he said.

There is no blood test that will detect such drugs, Harrison said, adding, "We have to catch them with it in their hand."