Why would active marines abuse synthetic drugs? Because the substances don’t show up on drug tests the way marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other illegal drugs do.
One marine estimates that, based on his experience and exposure, 50% to 70% of military personnel, whether currently active or not, have abused synthetic drugs like bath salts, spice, and K2.
The drugs may be used to replace a prior addiction while on active duty as well. When you cannot get alcohol or cocaine while deployed, any substitute substance will do. An addict is an addict, and difficult surroundings and circumstances create a desire to escape from, avoid, or numb the associated negative emotions.
The Navy has responded by creating and broadcasting a public service announcement, or PSA, that shows the effects of synthetic drugs, like bath salts. The video recreates the experience of a sailor who has received a package of bath salts in the mail. He opens is up, cuts up the bath salts into lines, snorts some, and then vomits.
From the sailor’s perspective, he then hallucinates faces, experiences anger, and hits his girlfriend. In another scene, the sailor is having seizures and delusions as he is held down on a stretcher being rushed into the emergency room. One Navy doctor says that those taking bath salts are treated as if they have the mental illness, schizophrenia, because that is the closest resemblance to anything medical professionals have seen before.
Synthetic drugs can be found almost anywhere. When one strand is banned and no longer sold in convenience stores, another strand under a different name pops up in its place. In an investigative report, abc News’ show Nightline used hidden cameras to follow one marine on his trip to buy “Bubbles,” one form of synthetic drugs. The young marine, still on active military duty, walked into a head shop near his home in San Diego and easily purchased the substance.
Investigative journalist, Mariana van Zeller watched as this young marine bought “Bubbles”. This marine and his new friend knew the protocol for buying synthetic drugs at a local head shop. One told Mariana that you have to, “Work your way into it. If you just walked in there like an idiot going, ‘Can I get some bath salts please?’ they wouldn’t hook you up.” The other marine added, “You have to walk in with a military haircut, acting like a regular client. It’s kind of how you gotta purchase it.”
One of the marines had stopped using synthetic drugs, but the other went home and continuously used this version of a synthetic drug as Mariana van Zeller asked him questions. Gradually the marine was slurring his words and confusing sentences. He admitted to being high, and to knowing that he would have to stop using bath salts very soon.
The military’s new battle: soldiers abusing synthetic drugs is a real problem that requires much more than a PSA. Addicted soldiers need treatment, but rarely have access to the level of services that could help change their lives.