Andrew Karnes of Cape Girardeau, Mo., and Max Harper of Carbondale appear to be healthy, normal young men dressed in the fashions common to their generation and appeared a bit out of place on a panel consisting of a doctor, a pharmacist and drug counselors.
When they began talking about their own life stories during the Alliance Against Drug Abuse seminar Wednesday night at Morrello’s Pizza and Grill it was obvious their minds are vaults of knowledge on topics the others on the panel know only second-hand. The two took their drug habits to the extreme, but backed away wiser from their experiences and now have a mission to inform others that the edge is a dangerous place to teeter.
Karnes was a fan of the synthetic drug known commonly as “bath salts” and Harper used to enjoy the synthetic drug K-2. Karnes had the reputation as a fun-loving individual, always popular at parties for his affable personality and because he had the best drugs. Crack and methamphetamine were a thrill for him and bath salts were a new beast, combining the speed of meth with the hallucinatory effects of ecstasy. The bath salts were available for legal sale at about about seven businesses in Cape Girardeau, Mo., for about $50 to $80 a gram. The drug was legal because “street chemists” could alter the chemical makeup of the illegal drugs to create a substance laws did not prohibit. The law caught up in July of 2012 and bath salts are now illegal, though they are still available in a couple of Cape Girardeau businesses.
The high was extreme, but so were the lows when the drug wore off and the crash came.
“You get headaches after use, hot and cold flashes,” he said.
One young woman became convinced she had died while taking the drug and was experiencing the afterlife.
“I was up three to six days with no sleep, no food, just a lot of water,” he said.
One binge kept him up for 15 days until his body shut down.
“At the end my body actually crashed and I went face first into a grill and ended up shattering the grill,” Karnes said.
The drug can cause reactions such as hallucinations, seizures, agitation, vomiting, paranoia, anxiety, blacking out, incessant teeth grinding and overstimulation of the central nervous system. But the emotional distress while crashing can be too much for some to bear.
“You literally hate everything, including yourself,” Karnes said.
The fear of the depression involved in the crash keeps some users taking the drug simply to stay high and not slip into a crash.
“You think about suicide. It really messes with your brain,” Karnes said.
Page 2 of 3 - He described the crash as “20 times worse than coming off crack and meth.”
“And you know the only thing that will make you feel normal again is if you do more of this. And that’s how it escalates so quickly,” he said.
He knows one man who argued with his parents about use of bath salts, left the home to go to a park and killed himself.
Harper said on synthetic drugs he experienced a personality change. A normally laid back person, he said on the drugs he would become violent with his mother and was led from the house in handcuffs.
While bath salts are in powder form like cocaine and may be ingested, injected or snorted, K-2 is a synthetic drug similar to marijuana and is normally smoked or may be rendered into a liquid and taken with food.
Karnes mentioned an especially nasty new synthetic drug called “smile” that comes in pill form. Some of the effects may include foaming at the mouth, banging of the head into objects, muscles seizing, body overheating and brain damage.
None of the synthetic drugs show up on typical drug tests used in the area. Results must be sent away for testing for specific substances.
Both men spoke as volunteers with Jennifer Casteel, addiction counselor for the Gateway Foundation at Carbondale.
Now sober, Harper’s goal is first to graduate high school and then pursue a career in substance abuse counseling.
Karnes is out of high school, working for a restaurant and intends to open his own restaurant. He is optimistic about his future, though says his years of drug abuse have left some long term or permanent damage to his body. He gets flashbacks, sometimes forgets the task he is supposed to be performing and predicts that by age 30 he will have to be taking regular medication for his heart. His family has a history of heart problems and his chronic use of stimulants caused premature damage to his heart, he said.
Lizz Cooley, child and adolescent counselor at Egyptian Health Department, and Dr. Michael Blain M.D. spoke about the epidemic of prescription and over-the-counter medication.
Cooley said studies show about 1/3 of teens believe there is nothing wrong with taking prescription medication and about 20 percent of students have taken them without consulting a doctor.
In Saline County in 2010 there were six deaths — 5 percent of all county deaths that year — due to prescription abuse.
She also cited a study showing one in five youth are abusing prescription drugs.
The most heavily abused over-the-counter medication is a substance found in many cold medicines. Internet sites provide instructions on how to extract the compound from the medicines. Effects can range from a mild high to psychosis in extreme cases.
Page 3 of 3 - Blain, who studied medicine in Detroit, Mich., and practiced in Chicago before moving to Harrisburg said the amount of substance abuse in our area is shocking.
“There is far more substance abuse I see here than Detroit,” he said.
“There is more substance abuse than Chicago.”
He believes doctors overprescribing is a part of the problem.
Blain is one of the few doctors in the region who can prescribe the drug Suboxone used to treat dependence on opioids such as Xanax. The drug keeps the patient from experiencing the pleasurable effects of opioids and is prescribed in conjunction with a counseling program.
The program involves one injection of Suboxone per month for six months. He has treated people as young as 18 and as old as 56.
Doctors from throughout the region have referred patients to Blain’s program. He has also been in contact with Gallatin County Judge Tom Foster about initiating a drug court program there.
Sheriff Keith Brown spoke on the rise in heroin use in Saline County. He believes part of the reason is following a period of high methamphetamine use, people have a desire for a depressant to settle down.
Pharmacist and owner of Beck’s Drugs Jason Kasiar described himself as the “ambassador” of prescription medication. He stressed many of the drugs that are abused work wonderfully to treat the affliction they are intended to treat. But the problem involves sharing of medication or theft of medication which he says is prevalent.
Daily people accuse him of having shorted them on prescription when he knows the problem is someone else sneaking 15 of the 60 pills prescribed.
Keeping medication in locked boxes is a solution and Beck’s and other pharmacies provide disposal bags for getting rid of old medication.
Brown also reminded the crowd about the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Drug Take Back program which the Sheriff’s Office and Egyptian Health Department sponsors in the spring and fall. Last year the program resulted in the take back of 58 pounds of medication and 96 pounds this year.