PEARL HARBOR (NNS) -- More than 400 Hawaii-based Sailors gathered at Sharkey Theater on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam May 1 to learn more about the policies, programs and risks regarding the abuse of synthetic drugs.
Representatives from Commander Navy Region Hawaii (CNRH), Naval Health Clinic Hawaii (NHCH), Region Legal Service Office (RLSO) in Hawaii and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) all conducted training about synthetic drugs such as Spice and Bath Salts.
Spice, a synthetic drug, looks similar to marijuana, or oregano, and is used for its psychoactive and hallucinogenic effects. The Navy has a zero tolerance policy for drug abuse, including the use of designer and synthetic compounds such as Spice.
CNRH Command Master Chief Marc Sibal said he has seen 20 to 30 Spice-related cases in the Navy in Hawaii during his tenure as CMC.
"Spice is here," said Sibal. "We still need to get our arms wrapped around it. It is still a problem. The bad thing about Spice is nobody knows about the long-term side effects of Spice. Nobody has done any studies with them."
Sibal is part of Hawaii's Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board (AFBCD) that looks at several establishments which are suspected of carrying and selling illegal drugs. The AFDCB establishes guidance and off-limits areas to military personnel in Hawaii.
"We all joined the Navy for different reasons, to get an education, to serve our country, to get stationed here or there, to make master chief, but not to smoke Spice and get kicked out of the Navy and to figure out what to tell your parents when you come home after one year in the Navy," said Sibal.
Lt. Cmdr. Daryl Sulit, a Navy Medical Corps officer assigned to NHCH, was at the training to talk about the medical effects of Spice. Sulit said that medicine knows the effect of marijuana over a long period of time. It has been used for centuries. Spice, on the other hand, is man-made and was introduced in the past decade.
"Spice is a designer drug made to mimic Marijuana," said Sulit. "If you look at the packaging, it looks very similar to marijuana and it is smoked like marijuana. We don't know if it will cause long-term brain damage, cancer, lung damage, or heart damage."
According to Navy Alchohol and Drug Abuse Prevention (NADAP), the chemical blends in synthetic drugs are continuously manipulated, and the strength of the synthetic chemical used is unknown. As a result, there is no way to know what a person is ingesting or what the long-term health risks are if used.
Sulit said that Spice not only affects the receptors in your brain, which induce hallucinogenic effects, it can also affect other organs such as the heart, kidney and digestive systems. Spice can take effect within 20 to 30 minutes, but can last for as long as 24 hours.
"Spice is so much more dangerous because it is a lot more potent than marijuana," said Sulit.
According the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Spice is five to 200 times more potent than THC in marijuana.
Sulit added that among the latest reports of the effects of spice are anxiety and panic attacks.
"It causes confusion delusion hallucination," said Sulit. "Spice can also cause depression, which could lead to suicide attempts, irritation and bizarre behaviors. It can also cause drowsiness and impaired cognition. It has been noted to cause high blood pressure, heart attacks, chest pain and increased heart rate."
NCIS Special Agent Steven Laskey was at the training to talk about the policies and programs involved to combat spice.
"This stuff is sold as incense," said Laskey. "It is sold as potpourri. It is marked as 'not for human consumption.' However, it is marked as 'not for human consumption' because it is supposed to attempt to defer and trick law enforcement. It was made purposely to use for human consumption, but labeling it not for consumption makes it legal. Up until 2011, it was perfectly legal. It was sold and advertised as a safe and alternative means for marijuana. Well, it is not remotely safe, and it is not legal as well."
In March 2012, the Navy announced that it has begun random testing of urine samples for synthetic chemical compounds like Spice. The Navy's capacity for testing for designer drugs will continue to expand. During fiscal year 2012, the Navy will invest $1.73 million to test for synthetic chemical compounds and expects to increase that amount to $2.9 million in fiscal year 2013.
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