Synthetic marijuana nearly claims life of Minn. teen
HASTINGS - Stacy Huberty was scared, really scared when her 14-year-old son overdosed recently. Then she got mad. The drug he overdosed on, a new synthetic marijuana, she found out, and is sold legally. Her son, she said, is having enough trouble staying straight, staying off the real thing.
Her next step, that same day, was to write an open letter to the editor, to alert other parents and the community to the dangers of the new "legal" method being used for a high.
"Herbal Incense, also known as "Spice" or "K2" is made up of herbs and chemical components related to marijuana. It's illegal in a few states, and other states are racing to pass laws to ban the substance.
A Dakota County Drug Task Force officer said the herbs and synthetic chemical compounds in the mix are legal.
"But the chemical compounds used to make the THC are 100 times more potent than the THC in marijuana," he said. It's legal to sell and legal to buy, but the side effects are unlimited - heart palpitations, agitation, vomiting, and the lowering of the potassium levels in the body can stop a person's heart.
"The agency is getting information from people on the streets and so far, we don't know any place it's being sold in Hastings." But he said it's being sold in the towns surrounding Hastings.
Stacy's son was home from a treatment center and halfway house on a 48-hour pass, his first. He is getting help for his addiction to marijuana.
A relative who was supposed to be with him, left him alone for a short while. But the "short while" was long enough for trouble to happen in a big way.
Stacy got a frantic call from her 25-year-old daughter last week.
"Mom, you need to get over here right away," Stacy said her daughter told her. "Something's wrong with (her son)."
Stacy raced to her van and drove the 12 blocks.
"I was horrified when I got there," Stacy said. "My son was lying on the bathroom floor, sweating and vomiting. The sweat was just dripping off his face, and he was confused.
"We got him out to the van, and I dialed 9-1-1 as I drove.
"Then my son slumped in the seat, and I reached over to touch him. His skin was clammy and cold.
"I was speeding to get him help, and I was upset, crying."
As she pulled her van up to the emergency entrance at Regina, personnel came running out and rushed him in. Stacy said as a veteran nurse, she knew he was in good hands.
"I moved my van, signed the release to treat him and gave them my insurance information.
"I was brought back to my son. He was on an IV and a heart monitor. He was barely responding. They were pouring potassium into him through the IV, because the level in his system was so low. And when it gets low, it can effect the heart. They made him drink it, too, when he started coming around."
The police came to the hospital soon after she got there. She told them what had happened when they showed up; the police in this case were there not because they were notified of an overdose but because Stacy had made a call to 9-1-1. Other than being supportive, there was nothing they could do to help her.
Five hours after her ordeal started, her son was released to her.
Stacy is not a woman who hides from problems. She also doesn't hide the problems from others if she thinks the knowledge can help them. That's why she's stepping forward. Her son wanted to talk, too, but in the end, he just didn't feel he could do it yet.
Like many parents, Stacy's done a lot or research about chemicals. With four children and a medical background, she wanted to know what she, and her children, were facing.
"Having a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old, I hear, and overhear, about what kids are using. And I know they're doing it at younger and younger ages," she said.
She also learned a lot, she said, going through chemical issues with both her sons. Her daughters, she said, never faced the same issues and excelled in school, with sports and the good grades. But her older son spent time at Hazelden Treatment Center. That and a stint in the Army helped him mature, she said. Now he tries to mentor his younger brother.
Her younger son started with alcohol, Stacy now believes.
"I wasn't aware," she said. "But marijuana really got him started - it's his drug of choice - about a year and a half ago. I think I found it in his jeans pocket.
"'I just tried it ... I'll never do it again ... Blah, blah, blah.' Those were his answers," Stacy said.
"I slept on the couch so I could catch him if he tried to sneak out. I set an early curfew. The most important thing was to keep him alive. When a friend of his got him to try Ecstasy, it really scared him, and he told me about it.
"At that point, I knew." And that's when he entered treatment.
And she's reaching out to other parents, looking for a new Al-Anon group, just for parents of teenagers with a chemical dependency. She invites anyone interested to call her at 651-319-6128.
"There are lots of Al-Anon groups, NA (Narcotics Anonymous) groups; unfortunately they're all geared to spouses," she said. "We need to get a couple of good groups going for parents. We need to start networking.
"It's our job as parents. Kids across all demographics use. The key is what you (as parents) do about it."
"I think people should know that I have some background," she said. "For years, I was the charge nurse in a detox facility. And now I'm a certified instructor for "Driving with Care," offering classes for those who have had DWIs. I love doing it. "
As for her son, she knows he's not ready to return home yet.
"We talked about it (the Spice he smoked)," Stacy said. "He said it was the most horrible thing he'd ever smoked. He said he felt like he could feel the blood moving through his arms, chest and neck, and he thought he was going to die."
Bonnie St. James is a reporter at the Hastings (Minn.) Star-Gazette, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.