This is vital work.
Without the information that comes from the identification and synthesis of synthetic drugs, prosecutors, researchers, and law enforcement would be unable to prosecute the manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and users of these drugs.
What we are wondering is this: How many labs are engaged in this vital work, and how can their combined knowledge and research help lawmakers make better drug policy across the nation?
The European Union established the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA) which keeps track of these drugs in order to enforce laws against them.
Why hasn’t the United States Government developed a grant program to coordinate the labs that are doing this work? Without a clear organizational plan for this battle against synthetic drugs, we cannot hope to make a dent in the damage it is doing to our society.
Traditional drugs are easy to legislate against. These new classes of drugs need a different approach. We are looking to our lawmakers to become creative, to learn from one another, and to build upon the knowledge and expertise of these scientists in order to assist them in this essential and growing work.
Cayman Chemical helps law enforcement fight K2, Spice drugs
June 10, 2012 • Elisha Anderson • Detroit Free Press Staff Writer
It’s a game of cat and mouse.
Scientists at Ann Arbor-based Cayman Chemical are using their expertise to help law enforcement officials as they try to address the rising problem of synthetic drugs such as K2 and Spice.
First, chemists — many based in China — create new formulas used in the drugs. Then Cayman’s chemists determine what chemicals have been changed to evade the law and share their findings with law enforcement in Michigan and nationwide.
“It’s this never-ending treadmill,” said company President Dr. Kirk Maxey. “It’s the cat chasing the mouse.” It’s important work, say law enforcement officials. In Michigan and nationwide, laws have been enacted to ban some chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana, but experts say manufacturers simply skirt the laws by changing the formulas.
In the past week alone, municipalities in Michigan have been passing measures to prohibit the sale of synthetic marijuana in their communities, and new state legislation is pending. The drugs — with brand names like K2 and Spice — are being blamed for hospitalizations, psychotic behavior and other problems.
As synthetic marijuana became available online, at some gas stations and in stores within the last four years, Cayman Chemical began developing reference standards — or highly purified small samples of chemicals.
Those are used by the Michigan State Police Crime Lab and other labs across the country to test and identify chemicals used in synthetic marijuana and bath salts. Cayman Chemical, which Maxey founded more than 30 years ago, also provides its products to researchers studying the drugs’ effects on the body.
“We recognized there was a need,” said Greg Endres, vice president of chemistry at Cayman Chemical. “It falls right in line with our expertise.”
The company and its more than 60 chemists spent years working with cannabinoids used by scientists who research pain management, obesity and appetite stimulation for drug researchers prior to the Spice epidemic. So when chemists began using a similar science to come up with K2 and Spice — which is smoked to get high — Cayman’s scientists understood it.
“We knew we could help the forensics community,” said Paul Kennedy, director of analytical chemistry at Cayman Chemical.
The Michigan State Police Crime Lab and the Drug Enforcement Administration are among those that rely on Cayman’s work.
“If we couldn’t purchase standards, we wouldn’t be able to make the identification,” said State Police Crime Lab forensic scientist Kyle Ann Hoskins. “That is a necessity.”
Prosecutors use those results to determine whether a substance is illegal.
Government agencies say they save money by purchasing the products from a private company.
“Why reinvent the wheel by making something that’s already available to purchase?” asked DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno. “We do our own testing using these reference standard chemicals that we buy.”
Cayman officials said they are careful not to sell their products to people whose intention is to make them available for abuse.
That work is just one part of Cayman Chemical’s business; most of its revenue comes from non-crime-related drug developments, Maxey said. “We’re a little bit public service-minded in doing this,” Maxey said. “If I was a real hard-nosed, money-grubbing entrepreneur, I wouldn’t be in this.”
Cayman’s employees, many of whom have children, realize the impact of their jobs.
“The work I do here will help law enforcement get these things off the street,” scientist Rob Schelkun said. “And hopefully educate people that this is dangerous stuff.”
The dangers of synthetic marijuana include rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, seizures, paranoia, loss of physical control and hallucinations.
Associating the drug with marijuana is a mistake, many familiar with the products warn, because the synthetic cannabinoids used in the products have different effects than THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. K2 and Spice are made of plant material sprayed with a chemical that gets a person high.
In recent weeks, people said to be on the drug have been linked to violent crimes and deaths, including the May 26 overdose death of an 18-year-old in Bloomfield Township; the May 18 death of Jonathan Hoffman, 17, of West Bloomfield, who police say was shot to death by his grandmother, and the April 16 attack on the Cipriano family in Farmington Hills that has led to charges against Tucker Cipriano, 19, and Mitchell Young, 20.
“The dangerous scary thing about synthetic marijuana is although it kind of traffics under the guise of pot … it isn’t pot and it’s not safe,” Maxey said
Contact Elisha Anderson: 313-222-5144 email@example.com