Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School senior Hannah Bender helped lead a campaign by students to ban synthetic marijuana in New York State.
The sale of synthetic marijuana products has been banned in New York State. That’s something Doug Terbeek takes great pride in.
“Our kids really played a major role in that,” said Terbeek, executive director of the Substance Abuse Prevention Team of Essex County. “We led the way on that issue.”
Last March the state health department imposed a ban to halt the sale of synthetic marijuana, which officials say is highly addictive and a pose a severe health hazard.
That action followed a campaign by area high school students, with assistance from the Prevention Team, to raise awareness of the dangers associated with synthetic marijuana, also known as K2, Spice, Kush, Paradise, Demon, Voodoo, Bayou Blaster and others titles.
The products consist of plant material that has been laced with chemical substances that claim to mimic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive active ingredient in marijuana, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“Some kids from E-town (Elizabethtown) initially had some terrible reactions and got really scared,” said Mac MacDevitt, Prevention Team community-based prevention coordinator. “They realized this stuff is poison. The kids were scared and angry that the stuff was being sold.”
Prevention Team educator Dave Wyant is still amazed how something that started as a small discussion between a couple of students at Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School could turn into a state-wide movement.
“I was really amazed at how quickly it went,” Wyant said. “This started out as a small group of students and the kids really jumped on it.”
Wyant said students had seen the affects of synthetic marijuana on peers.
“They all had friends that were affected by it and it really impacted them,” Wyant said. “I am still not sure that they realize just how much was accomplished in the county and in the state through them.”
Students became passionate about their cause, Wyant said.
“I had a cousin that passed away after smoking synthetic pot and I have seen a lot of friends get really sick,” Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School senior Hannah Bender said. “It was amazing and I wanted to know what we could do to make sure that this stuff was illegal to buy. It was too easy to get and too dangerous.”
Bender said she approached Wyant at school to ask what the students could do. Eventually, they started a petition to send to government officials asking for the ban and were joined by schools throughout the county.
“I thought it was awesome,” Bender said. “Once everyone joined in, we had a stack of petitions like a novel. It was extraordinary that this happened.”
Bender and others joined with students from area schools and adults, like Erin Burdo of the Elizabethtown Social Center and Karen Crowingshield and Grant Martin of Elizabethtown Community Hospital, to seek a ban on the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana. They held a petition drive, a rally and contacted state representatives.
“It’s a real success story,” MacDevitt said. “Our kids allied with adults and moved the state to action. There were folks in other areas of the state with concerns, but it seems like Essex County raised the alarm and really made a difference.
“As a public health issue, the kids themselves saw it as a danger,” he added. “The kids led the fight and others in the community got involved. Because of all the attention most stores in the area stopped selling it before the (state) ban.”
Wyant said that along with helping to promote the government ban on synthetic pot, the students also saw that their voice had an impact.
“This is a teachable moment, for sure,” he said. “I am really proud of them.”
MacDevitt said evidence shows the ban is working.
“The reported number of adverse reactions has slowed to a trickle,” he said. “The Elizabethtown hospital hasn’t seen anyone in two months.”
Use of the synthetic marijuana can cause agitation, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, rapid heart beat, elevated blood pressure, tremors, seizures, hallucinations and paranoid behavior, according to Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The Prevention Team is a non-profit agency providing education and prevention services for Essex County. It has educators and counselors in Elizabethtown-Lewis, Crown Point, Ticonderoga, Moriah, Minerva, Newcomb, Westport, Willsboro and Lake Placid schools.
October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. The Prevention Team has no special events planned for National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, although it will observe Above the Influence Day on Oct. 18 and Red Ribbon Week Oct. 23-31. Red Ribbon Week honors the memory of Enrique (Kiki) Camarena, a federal agent killed by Mexican drug dealers in 1985.
Keith Lobdell contributed to this report.