Designer drugs will continue to kill young people because there's almost nothing police can do to prevent their sale, says a Fort McMurray RCMP officer.
Const. Michael Jaszczyszyn has spent four years investigating the use of designer drugs — drugs that mimic the effects of marijuana, cocaine or LSD but are manufactured in makeshift labs.
The drugs are legal to sell and consume. They're sold as incense in hemp or head shops across the country, and are labelled 'not for human consumption,' but buyers smoke the material as a form of synthetic marijuana, he said.
Last week, a Fort McMurray teen died from what his family said were complications of taking a synthetic designer drug.
Jaszczyszyn is not involved in the investigation into Logan Heck's death, but said the drugs sold under names such as K2, Spice, N-bomb and I25, will continue to grow in popularity because users believe if they are legal, they must be safe.
"It's quite the marketing scheme," Jaszczyszyn told CBC's Edmonton AM.
While lawmakers have legislated against some of the drugs, producers merely change the formula to make it legal again.
"What these people are doing — they're adding a hydrogen molecule, they're taking out an oxygen — when they alter them, they become a new drug," Jaszczyszyn said.
"Legislation, unfortunately, doesn't have time to catch up and label it as being an illegal drug, and by the time that they do, they've come out with dozens more variations."
Therein lies the reason why the materials are so dangerous.
Drugs such as cocaine and heroin have a specific molecular formula and users know what they're ingesting. The problem comes when the dose is more potent than expected.
But with synthetic designer drugs, every package could have different substances, in varying concentrations.
A user may have no problem with the drug after dozens of times, but the next may send him to hospital or kill him, he said.
Jaszczyszyn said he has seen people lose control of themselves, hallucinate, or have their hearts race out of control.
"I've seen the odd person fly into a complete rage, punching holes through their walls, bloodying their fists by punching windows out in their homes."
As for the health effects of long-term use, there is no data, he said.
"We don't have any long-term studies on this stuff."
Since the drugs cannot be controlled by legislation or enforcement, education is the key, he said.
"People don't understand these drugs."