The presence of so-called designer drugs is increasing in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County and law enforcement, prosecutors and medical professionals say the drugs pose serious dangers to users.

The presence of so-called designer drugs is increasing in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County and law enforcement, prosecutors and medical professionals say the drugs pose serious dangers to users.


Police Vice and Narcotics Detective Bill Ablondi said synthetic marijuana, also known as K-2 or Spice, was originally developed in a laboratory, and is used the same way traditional marijuana has been used, including smoking, and has sometimes been used as an ingredient in baked items like brownies.


"It mimics the effects of THC, which is the active ingredient of marijuana, but it’s a lot stronger," Ablondi said.


Dr. Jeffery Moran, who works for the Arkansas Department of Health, has been involved in researching designer drugs since 2010 when they first made their appearance in the state and is part of a task force to determine what the drugs are, determine if they should be regulated, and if so, set up an infrastructure in the legal and medical community to do so.


"K-2 is actually the second highest mountain in the world next to Mount Everest," Moran said. "Maybe that’s why the drug dealers refer to it as K-2 because you can get high, but the thing is, K-2 could be anything. You never know what you’re taking until you test it."


Moran said K-2 and other similar products are more potent and toxic that regular marijuana.


"They can kill and they have killed," he said.


Both Ablondi and Moran said the use of K-2 and like products is common among young people, with Moran adding that 11 percent of high school seniors have admitted using the drug, which is second only to marijuana in use among teens.


"The user profile for K-2 is a male in their late teens to early 20s, and they’re heavy users," Moran said.


According to Ablondi, he has talked to people on probation and parole who have admitted using K-2 because it will not show up in urine tests like the use of regular marijuana will.


Moran said that was the case until recently, but new testing, developed in the state, can produce results. The problem with that testing is that it is extremely expensive, costing several hundred dollars per specimen. He said he and others are currently working on a form of that test that they believe can be offered at an affordable cost to probation and parole officers, law enforcement agencies and parents concerned about their children and who believe the children might be using drugs.


"I believe the threat of testing is a good deterrent," Moran said. "It’s something you can’t measure the benefits of because you’re stopping something before it happens."


As an example, Moran said he was concerned about the possibility of a person using K-2 and "driving through a house.


"The law enforcement investigation would be complicated because there would be no presence of alcohol like a normal DWI," he said.


Ablondi said K-2 and similar products "have a distinct smell and don’t look like traditional marijuana.


"It actually looks like ground up potpourri and comes in brightly colored packages and flavors like incense," he said. "Legally, it can’t be sold here. We find it a lot here because people believe it’s less illegal than other drugs."


K-2 was mentioned in association with the Aug. 18 shooting death of Howard Edwards, 61, in Pine Bluff. The suspect, Courtland King, 18, allegedly told police that the two had smoked four or five K-2 blunts in a car together before the shooting occurred.


A second designer drug, PCP, or Phencyclidine, has become a big problem in Pine Bluff, Ablondi said.


Recently, a man was arrested after running naked down University Drive fighting cars. When he was arrested, he broke the glass out of the police car and tried to escape. Several police officers were needed to bring him into custody and he was Tased in the process. In a separate incident, a man jumped on top of a police car, broke a window and then broke the radio antenna on a second vehicle. Both men had allegedly used PCP, and while there was no mention made of it during a recent murder trial, the defendant in that case had also allegedly used PCP, also known on the streets as sherm or wet.


In December 2011, Courtney Lewis was accused of killing one person and shooting three others in an incident that was blamed on PCP. Lewis struggled with police during the initial arrest — including trying to drown an officer — and later briefly escaped from them. Seventeen accusations — 15 of them felonies — resulted from the incident. He pleaded guilty to 16 of them and is serving 60 years in prison.


"This office is very concerned about the level of physical violence associated with this drug," Deputy Prosecutor Bryan Achorn said. "It’s almost scary."


Ablondi said he has seen "homicides, shootings and incidents of street fights that resulted from people on PCP.


"Pine Bluff is the only place I’ve heard it called wet," Ablondi said. "Everywhere else it’s called sherm and older people can remember smoking sherm that created a calming effect 25 or so years ago. The way they’re cooking it now, it makes people a lot more violent."


Moran said chemically created drugs like PCP are similar to products like K-2 in that users don’t know what they’re getting.


"Drug dealers lie," he said. "They don’t care as long as they’re getting their money. There are a whole bunch of drugs that are similar and they can create agitated, aggressive behavior."


Achorn said that while the Pine Bluff Vice and Narcotics Unit and the Tri-County Drug Task Force are "working hard to try and curtail the influx of these drugs, like any narcotic, it’s difficult if the demand is there.


"This drug is much more dangerous in the sense that it can cause violent criminal activity more than any other drug I’m aware of," Achorn said.