San Clemente is a beautiful beach town in south Orange County, populated by people who are devoted to their families. Many of the current residents of this charming city grew up here themselves, and are now raising their own children here; their kids attending the same schools, hanging out at the same beaches, even dining at the same restaurants that they had enjoyed as kids.
Why is it, then, that a scourge is casting a cloud over this idyllic community, a drug problem that has caused this community to mourn the loss of about a dozen young people in the last couple of years? Heroin, prescription drugs, alcohol abuse and related accidents and suicides are all seemingly rampant in this town. Of course, San Clemente is not alone, as this is a cultural tragedy.
In response to the fears of parents and concerns of health professionals and law enforcement, San Clemente’s gathered to help combat this problem. Pondo Vleisides, one of the parents who grew up here and attended San Clemente High, and now the pastor of Talega Life Church, has been on the forefront of this threat to youth. He has been dedicated to this cause for several years, offering musical events, sports, guitar lessons and soon, gaming, at his church—anything to keep kids distracted from the drug scene and engaged in positive, healthy activities. He has also been working closely with San Clemente High School and their efforts to educate parents and provide alternative activities.
Pondo created a group called Cure San Clemente and has now combined efforts with both Save SC and Community Outreach Alliance (COA), all local grass roots groups that will access various resources from San Clemente businesses and organizations. On Monday, Oct. 27, at Talega Life Church, COA made its debut featuring a presentation by the parents of a young man, Connor Reid Eckhardt, who died in July after taking one hit of spice.
Devin and Veronica Eckhardt bravely shared their sad story to a roomful of parents, community officials and youth. Up on the screen was their latest Facebook page called The Connor Project, which will be their social media site for creating awareness of this dangerous drug, which featured a heartbreaking cover photo of their comatose son. Included in the audience were several parents who have recently lost their own children to drugs, alcohol and suicide.
The tale of what happened to their son was riveting. Taking turns speaking, these parents recounted that day when they received the call no parent ever wants to get. Their son was in a coma at Hoag Hospital, caused by spice, also known as K2, Yucatan Fire, Skunk, Moon Rocks, among other monikers. Their 19-year-old son died a few days later.
Because he was an organ donor, the extra days needed to prepare for the donations allowed the family time to spend with him to say their goodbyes. The slideshow they shared evoked tears throughout the audience, especially the last part of the presentation when the helicopter is shown flying off with Connor’s organs.
Their story gained national, then international, attention after they created a page on Facebook to alert the public to the dangers of spice. They have been outspoken in their efforts to educate a public that is largely unaware of this drug and its dangers. Devin Eckhardt clarified the misnomer of spice being called “synthetic marijuana.” He pointed out that in most people’s minds marijuana is at the low end of the drug spectrum, in terms of physical or mental harmful effects, with drugs like heroin being on the top end. He pointed out that spice exceeds the dangers of heroin.
Spice is supposed to be illegal. The fact is that the producers of this class of drugs keeps changing the chemical compound used in them in order to stay one step ahead of the law. Ongoing litigation in Colorado, as they seek to criminalize it, has discovered the source of the chemical compounds as China, arriving in Florida, and then being distributed nationally. It is packaged as incense or potpourri with such names as “Mr. Happy,” “Lava” and “Phantom Wicked,” and can be purchased at convenience stores, head shops and online.
Some of the chemicals used in Spice are cannabicyclohexanol, JWH-018, JWH-073 or HU-210, in addition to several mystery ingredients, including stimulant and psychedelic derivatives. Also used in these chemical compounds are insect repellents and fertilizer components.
Adverse symptoms include increased agitation, profuse sweating, pale skin or vomiting. There is a loss of physical control, as if the brain and body are disconnected. There can be seizures and a lack of pain response, as well as uncontrolled, spastic body movements. There are hallucinations and agitation, and states of psychosis can result. The paranoia experienced is more similar to that from PCP than marijuana. Kidney damage is common.
In Indiana in 2013, four young people died after smoking spice. In May 2013, there were 100 overdoses in Dallas and Austin in a five day period and in July 2014 there were 15 kids hospitalized in New York City—all attributed to spice. In 2010, 11,406 emergency room visits were due to spice use. Those who survive the drug can have long-lasting cognitive impairment. Sixteen-year-old Emily Bauer of Cyprus, Texas suffered a series of strokes, and is left blind, partially paralyzed and mentally impaired. Kyle Smith of Forest Hill, Md., now 19, has attempted suicide three times and has been institutionalized 17 times.
The Eckhardts informed us that spice is now available in liquid form. Sold with such names as “Cloud 9,” “Pumpkinol” and “Car-o-Power,” to name a few. The liquid form of spice feeds right into the vape trend. Using electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, a person can be smoking these chemicals in public. Veronica Eckhardt also mentioned the danger of kids sharing their e-cigs amongst each other, dabbling in the various ‘flavors’ of the liquid spice and increasing the odds of not only overdosing, but also passing infections. She also suggested that this liquid form of the deadly drug could easily be slipped into someone’s beverage.
By the end of their presentation, all in attendance were stunned and wiping tears. Drug and alcohol abuse is getting out of control, and now there is yet another drug, spice, to tackle. Parents feel scared and powerless knowing that these substances are claiming the lives of so many promising young people, and worried about their own children. Only through community awareness, discussion, events and utilizing social media to spread the word and offer options for teens and young adults, can community members feel a sense of constructive purpose in this fight to rid the community of these dangerous drugs.
If you are interested in participating in the effort to raise awareness to spice and other substances, contact COA. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about treatment options for spice abuse, other substance abuse, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis, contact Sovereign Health Group at (866) 819-0427.
Written by Sovereign Health group writer, Eileen Spatz