As law enforcement authorities continue to grapple with the scourge of methampethamine, a new and so far legal substance has them worried — and trying to combat it.
Law enforcement has seen a dramatic increase in the use of the drug “Spice,” which has been marketed as fake pot and herbal incense, and it also may be having an effect on local crime.
“It’s bad,” said Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie. “This stuff is just … I don’t know how to explain it. It’s not illegal. But it should be because of what it does. I don’t think people understand the seriousness of what’s going on with it.”
Last month, a Richmond Hill man arrested in Effingham County for solicting sexual favors claimed to be high on “spice.” Two weeks ago, a man accused of breaking into a Rincon area hotel and assaulting the clerk with a stun gun was found to have “spice” in his possession.
“We’ve had a handful of incidents where Spice has been involved,” said ECSO spokesman Detective David Ehsanipoor.
McDuffie also pointed to the recent case in Bulloch County where a young man, said to be high on Spice, violently and viciously attacked his girlfriend, leaving her in critical condition.
“Right now, we’re grasping at straws to make it illegal, to get it off the shelves before it kills somebody,” McDuffie admitted.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, earlier this year, designated Spice and K-2 under its most restrictive category of the Controlled Substances Act. According to the DEA, “smokeable herbal products marketed as being legal and as providing a marijuana-like high, have become increasingly popular, particularly among teens and young adults. These products consist of plant material that has been coated with research chemicals that claim to mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.”
McDuffie has spoken with several state legislators, including state Sen. Jack Hill and state Reps. Ann Purcell and Jan Tankersley, in the hopes lawmakers can enact laws to restrict the sales of Spice.
“Ann and Jan are really up on trying to do something to get it outlawed,” the sheriff said.
Rincon City Attorney Raymond Dickey also has approached McDuffie on how they can restrict its availability.
“It’s becoming a problem,” Dickey said. “I’m not sure we’re going to be able to make it illegal, but we could do something to make it not so attractive to sell.”
One of the authorities’ hurdlesis there is no way to track sales of Spice. Law enforcement can track sales of certain cold medications that can be used to make meth. But those want to purchase Spice can do so over the counter, with no register to track its sales.
They have put the word out to convenience stores and other places that could sell Spice that law enforcement needs their help.
“We are working with some stores to tell them it’s detrimental and we are trying to curtail it,” McDuffie said.
He has written letters to store owners and has had those letters reviewed by the attorney and the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office.
“We are getting more and more folks who are working to get something done with this stuff,” McDuffie said.
Spice’s effects are being noticed across the emergency responders spectrum. Rincon Fire Chief Corey Rahn said his department has seen a rise in medical calls that involve Spice. Rincon Mayor Ken Lee related an episode where a Rincon Police officer had an incident with someone who had a weapon and was on Spice.
“It really could have gotten very ugly,” Lee said. “It’s a very serious issue, apparently.”
Trying to get Spice outlawed, however, will take providing state lawmakers with sufficient documentation on its effects.
“There’s nothing good about it,” the sheriff said. “We’ve got to get our legislators to figure out a way, and I don’t know how unless we get enough data to them.”