About 150 medical professionals, law enforcement officials, first responders and other community members gathered at Brighton Center for Recovery Thursday for its Synthetic Summit, designed to educate the public on the continuing epidemic of synthetic marijuana.
Scott Masi, referral-outreach specialist and program analyst for the Brighton Center for Recovery, said that because synthetic drugs hit us so quickly, now is the time to stay on top of it and stay informed because of all the unknowns - such as the long term effects.
"We want to address the issue," Masi said of synthetic drugs. "We know there is some type of legislation in about 41 different states, and they've all seen an increase in use - even after legislation has passed. So it's important for us to take a proactive approach and to stay on top of this issue. With the community collaborative that we have so strongly here in Livingston County and the tri-county area, it was a great opportunity to just reach out to the people that we needed to: the community, the schools, the clinical physicians, all encompassing players.
Masi said one of the biggest issues came from first responders asking for training on how to deal with cases involving synthetic marijuana, like K2 or Spice.
Bill Vailliencourt, Livingston County Assistant Prosecutor and current GOP prosecutor candidate, spoke of the new Michigan law that was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in late June that closed a loophole in the 2010 law, which outlawed specific chemical formulas.
Vailliencourt explained how chemists got around the law by simply changing the formula, creating a new drug.
The new law targets a broad list of chemical compositions and increases penalties. Selling K2 or similar substances is now a seven-year felony. Possession is now a two-year felony and use is a one-year misdemeanor, according to Vailliencourt.
According to Livingston County Sheriff Bob Bezotte, even with the new legislation, law enforcement officials are seeing new products already.
Masi said even though synthetic drugs are now illegal to sell, it's still available in areas and even on the internet.
Schools, students react
Representatives from Brighton Area Schools, Hartland Consolidated Schools and Huron Valley Schools also attended the summit.
Peggy Storey, a teacher at Ore Creek Middle School brought several students with her.
"We're creating a new group called STAND - Start Taking a New Direction," Storey said. "It's open to every student and they pick the issues they want to tackle - from synthetic drugs to bullying."
Incoming Hartland High School freshmen Anna Thompson and Alex Andriaocir said they wanted to come to the summit because the people their own age are starting to do drugs and they want to stay away from it.
"I want to learn as much as I can and teach my friends," Andriaocir said. "It's not good."
"I can't believe they still want to do it after all of the ads showing what drugs can do to you," Thompson added.
For more information on synthetic drugs, visit www.syntheticsummit.org/Resources.html