Poland Poisonings Illustrate Global Synthetic Drug Challenge

In 2010, there were just over 500 poisonings linked to synthetic drugs. This doubled in 2013, and in the first eight months of this year there were more than 5,350 poisonings and at least 20 people died.

Mariusz Wisniewski, a teacher and social worker from Rybnik, a mining town where designer drugs are popular, said he attended the funerals of eight former students last year who were poisoned or, he says, driven to suicide by drugs .

“Our teenagers were smoking marijuana or using amphetamines before they realized they could go wrong with something cheaper and more readily available,” Wisniewski said.

Designer drugs are often more addictive and cause more psychiatric disorders than traditional drugs, including heroin, experts say.

“This stuff bothers you,” said Sylwia Wielgus, 26, who used to smoke the high-potency synthetic cannabinoids. “I wanted to forget a lot of things, like fighting with my parents, running away from home.”

But years of synthetic drug abuse left him with brain damage.

“I don’t remember when I was 9, 10, 11 or 12,” she said. “These drugs stole half my life.”

One of the biggest problems regulators face is legally defining new psychoactive substances as they hit the market. Poland, like Ireland, introduced the widest possible definition, called general prohibition, prohibiting any substance of natural or synthetic origin used as a substitute for traditional drugs.

Alvin J. Chase