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Dicey Spice: Yavapai vendors giving up on synthetic drugs after county proposes unique incentive
“Patients are not able to differentiate fantasy from reality and need to be restrained.”
--Dr. Kelly Robinson
8/19/2012 7:34:00 AM
By Jon Hutchinson
CAMP VERDE -- Stephen Ogden said he was willing to sign a stipulation to say his business Pipe Dreamz Smoke Shop on Western Drive in Verde Village would no longer sell spice or bath salts products.
But he wanted to add a single word -- "illegal" -- to precede each of the listed products in the stipulation.
"We can't agree to that," responded Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, "because the state has not listed these products as 'illegal.'"
That is the issue confronting every county in Arizona. Polk hopes by declaring the substances a "public nuisance," law enforcement can stay ahead of the rapidly changing chemical formulas that are not defined in law.
Within a couple of weeks after the state declared "spice" illegal in 2011, chemists had changed the formula enough that acquisition of the synthetic drugs by Yavapai County undercover operatives were no longer being tested as illegal, according to the new law.
Last Thursday, Aug. 9, Superior Court Judge Patricia A. Trebesch issued a Temporary Restraining Order banning the sale of synthetic dangerous drugs in Yavapai County by all known sellers. A public hearing was set for the 12 named retailers plus property owners Thursday at the Camp Verde Courthouse.
Judge Trebesch had scheduled a consolidated hearing on both the preliminary injunction and merits of the case, but one of the 12 retailers asked for a change of judge, and Judge Michael Bluff was not comfortable with a consolidated hearing.
Before the proceedings, Polk requested time so that those who wished could sign a stipulation that they would no longer sell the "novelty powders." Eight of the retailers agreed to sign the stipulation they would cease forever more from acquiring or selling the product and they were dismissed from the proceeding. Two of the defendants did not show or respond: the Island Store on Miller Valley Road in Prescott and B-Desh, which operates the Texaco gas station on State Route 69 and Navajo in Prescott Valley.
Two remaining named defendants sat at the defense bench for the hearing on the preliminary injunction motion: Stephen Ogden of Verde Village and county supervisor candidate Wes Lance of Camp Verde.
The law reads, it is "a public nuisance for anything to be 1. Injurious to health, indecent, offensive to the senses or an obstruction to the free use of property that interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property by the entire community or neighborhood or by a considerable number of persons."
"This is the first case in which this statute, (A.R.S 13-2917) has been used to address this particular problem," Deputy County Attorney Jack Fields said. "It is often used to address sex-oriented businesses or drug houses. We believe we are the first to use it to address dangerous synthetic drugs."
The civil case presents more than 100 affidavits from police, hospitals, schools, public health officials and others with reports of detrimental and health threatening effects of the synthetics.
James Gregory, a sergeant with the Prescott Valley Police and a member of the Yavapai County PANT drug enforcement arm, spoke of the many police raids and "buys" at the various shops that sold spice and bath salts products. He said he can see the problem "getting worse" since it is so openly available and the formulas are not "illegal."
During one of the seizures, at Mike's Connection, PANT seized 3,000 doses of spice and 235 of bath salts. In another case, 600 packets were seized.
Dr. Kelly Robinson, director of Emergency Medical at Verde Valley Medical Center, said the ER sees one to two patients each day that come in disoriented, agitated and often violent and need to be sedated. He says the synthetic drugs create headaches, psychosis, increase the metabolic rate, cause organ failure and muscle breakdown.
In the case of extreme psychosis, he says, "Patients are not able to differentiate fantasy from reality and need to be restrained. It is a big burden on the Emergency Department."
Why do some users tend to take off their clothes and run naked, asked the County Attorney. "Their metabolic rate rises and they feel overheated," Robinson explained. "They can have organ damage, circulatory collapse, stroke, heart attack, renal failure and brain damage. They feel super-powerful and can break their own limbs to get out of restraints."
They become so violent, "you never want to turn your back and always leave yourself an escape route."
The court process has three stages, explained Polk. The temporary restraining order without notice is good for 10 days. During that time, defendants have the right to the current hearing to decide if there will be a preliminary injunction.
If Bluff issues a preliminary injunction, it will remain in effect until the trial on the merits of the case.
"In February, we thought we could get the poison off the street with that state law. But the chemists had changed the formula within three weeks, and when we tested it and it was no longer the same product that the Legislature had banned. It is new phenomena for all of us.
"We thought as soon as we share how detrimental it is, the shops would stop selling it. And it worked in six or seven of the shops. It worked for many retailers, but for those that didn't, the public nuisance lawsuit was a new idea. We don't have a model across the country. We are the first ones to try it this way. But, if successful, it will be the model for the country."
The hearing resumes Thursday, Aug 23, at 9 a.m., and will continue into Friday.
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Hayfield Draw seasonal closure
Brush Fire in the Village of Oak Creek
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