D.C.: Dept. of Health Launches Zombie Campaign To Discourage Youth From Using Fake Weed
By Steve Elliott
Mayor Vincent Gray and the District of Columbia Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday launched D.C.'s first campaign against "synthetic marijuana" use among District youth. The zombie-themed campaign will highlight the negative side effects and dangers of the illegal drug, which really shouldn't be called "marijuana" at all, since -- unlike cannabis -- it can be dangerous.
Synthetic smoking mixes go by a variety of different names such as Spice, Spice Gold, K2, Zombie World, Scooby Snax, and Potpourri. They are often packaged in bright, colorful three-ounce plastic pouches decorated with designs, graphic imagery, quotes from cartoon characters and popular movies, and other recognizable mainstream logos.
Public health and law enforcement officials have traced the sale of the drug to many D.C. tobacco shops and smoke shops, gas stations, convenience stores and over the Internet.
"One of my top priorities is to ensure that District youth have an opportunity to learn, live, and grow in a city that takes a proactive approach to ensure their right to a healthy, safe and drug-free life," Mayor Gray said. "The new campaign designed to create awareness of the extreme dangers and negative effects of synthetic marijuana is remarkable and very necessary.
"I look forward to accomplishing this goal with the help of this initiative and want to commend the collaborative efforts of both the Department of Health and Metropolitan Police Department to protect one of our most fragile and impressionable populations," Mayor Gray said.
These smoking mixes are often mistaken for natural or herbal products, but that is a result of false advertising. They are made of shredded plant material and are typically marketed as "100 percent organic herbs," falsely convincing consumers that they are using a safe, natural product.
Additional public health data show that what is misleadingly called "synthetic marijuana" contains numerous harmful and dangerous chemical additives. Side effects have included chills, dizziness, rapid heart rate, fainting, coma, vomiting, and in some documented cases, stroke, blood clots, loss of body movement and motor skills, brain damage, and blindness, according to D.C. officials.
According to reports from the District of Columbia Prevention Centers, the average age of users of synthetic smoking blends in the city is 13 years old. Recent focus group findings in partnership with DOH and local youth organizations indicate that it is seen as an alternative to marijuana, as a result of its easy availability and ability to go undetected in routine drug testing.
The 2012 Monitoring The Future study found that "synthetic marijuana" now ranks as the second most frequently used illegal drug among high school seniors, with real marijuana being number one.
Poison control centers have reported calls related to the drug doubled between 2010 and 2011. The use of synthetic smoking blends sent 11,406 users to emergency rooms in 2010, according to a recent report from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN).
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) released survey results in December 2011 reporting that one in nine high school seniors had used "Spice" or "K2," "making synthetic marijuana the second most commonly used illicit drug, after marijuana, among high school seniors."
"As the District's health officer, it is my responsibility to inform and protect the health and safety of District residents," said Dr. Saul Levin, interim director of the D.C. Department of Health. "It is also important for youth, parents and community leaders to know that synthetic marijuana is harmful.
"Use of this drug has proven to cause serious and lasting health effects that jeopardize the body and developing mind," Dr. Levin said.
The campaign will be visible across the city throughout the spring and summer, with advertising on Metro transit, the Internet, newspapers, radio and billboards. There will also be an interactive website, www.K2ZombieDC.com.