Interviews BLOG

Synthetic drugs have been a hot topic in national media for the past few months, and concern is growing around what exactly synthetics are and how to approach the growing numbers of those who abuse them. In our search for answers to this trending problem, we came across Journey Healing Centers.

Journey Healing Centers is a group of healing professionals committed to the sobriety of those who choose to take action against their addiction. They provide customized programs that fit each individual's needs and offer specialized drug treatment counseling aimed at helping their guests develop a new self-image, begin positive life changes, and stay sober. Their focus is to help individuals take responsibility for their actions and choices. They have several healing centers located in natural settings in Arizona and Utah, with day treatment, outpatient, and residential programs available. In late August, Bath Salts became their #1 client addiction and since April have been requested to share their expertise in interviews 7 times; this demonstrates the rising need to address the dangerous and growing trend of synthetic drugs. We approached their Corporate Medical Director, Dr. Ravi Chandiramani, to help us spread awareness about this topic.

TestCountry: Dr. Ravi Chandiramani, are synthetic drugs here to stay or are they just a fad, and just how serious is the problem?

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani: Synthetic drugs are here to stay. I should qualify that statement to say that there will always be a faction of individuals looking for ways to get high and not get caught. This will require innovation and thinking outside of the box.

The problem is quite serious in that one of the problems with synthesizing novel compounds is that they are largely untested and very little is known about the safety and short-term to long-term consequences. These substances make their way into the marketplace without the rigorous testing required of other commercially available products and as such pose significant threats from a health and public safety perspective.

In 2010, poison centers nationwide responded to about 3,200 calls related to synthetic marijuana and bath salts. In 2011, that number jumped to more than 13,000 calls. 60% of the cases involved patients 25 and younger.

TestCountry: What is the appeal of a synthetic drug over another substance?

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani: Price, accessibility, perceived "legal" status, and the ability to pass a drug test are the major reasons behind using a synthetic drug.

TestCountry: Are synthetic drugs a gateway to other drugs, or is it the other way around?

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani: We don't have enough information at present to make this determination. Certainly, if a young person's initial exposure to a psychoactive substance is a designer drug versus nicotine or marijuana, it stands to reason that it could lead to experimentation with "harder" drugs, in much the same way as nicotine or marijuana would. More will be revealed.

TestCountry: Which of all potential drugs of abuse are more dangerous and more concerning?

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani: In my opinion, all drugs of abuse are dangerous from the standpoint that they could lead to death by overdose.

TestCountry: Are addicts of synthetic drugs any different from those who choose other drugs? For example, are there any trends you have discovered as a result of working in this field?

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani: Not really. The only clinically relevant difference is that the designer drugs seem to have a greater correlation with new-onset seizure and psychosis than some of the other substances of abuse.

TestCountry: Well, that is certainly concerning to note. What do you think is the most important thing for the general public to take away in regards to substance abuse?

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani: Substance abuse is dangerous across the board. Substance abuse can lead to addiction. Addiction does not discriminate and if left untreated usually results in incarceration, institutionalization, or death.

TestCountry: How would you recommend an addict go about finding treatment? What is the first step?

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani: The first step is to recognize that you have a problem. Then, reach out to your support system for assistance in seeking professional help, get treatment, and apply what you learn every day for the rest of your life. This is the only path to live sober and free.

TestCountry: What about for a concerned family member, teacher, or employer?

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani: I would recommend that they identify community resources and use them. There are several free hotlines that can provide the information needed to get the ball rolling and develop an action plan.

TestCountry: One of the arguments among parents of substance abusers is whether or not to involve the law: the debate lies in the effectiveness of "tough" love.

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani: While getting law enforcement involved may sometimes be necessary and certainly warranted if the individual in question is at risk of harming themselves or someone else, this is not the only option available when a loved one is in trouble.

TestCountry: Do you think current legislation is keeping up with drug abuse in this country?

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani: Not really. Legislators are removed from the front line and the trenches. While they may believe they are doing their best with the information they have, unfortunately, they always seem to be a few steps behind.

TestCountry: In your opinion as a health care provider, what changes should be made?

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani: It all boils down to education, communication, and equal access to treatment. Too many people tell me that they know nothing about addiction, including healthcare providers. That is a big problem. Everyone who interacts with a substance abuser or addict should be communicating with one another, from the parents to the teachers to the clergy members and the healthcare providers. It is much more difficult for an addict to remain in hiding when everyone he or she knows is communicating with one another. There has to be an equal allocation of resources made to behavioral health care, mandated insurance parity, and equal access to community resources.

TestCountry: Those are all great points, thank you. Our final question of the day involves causes of drug use. What do you think is the biggest factor in substance abuse? For example, is it socioeconomic, environmental, related to self-esteem, lack of knowledge, etc.

Dr. Ravi Chandiramani: There is no one largest factor. Addiction is now and will always be multi-factorial in etiology and as such must be treated with a multifaceted approach.

TestCountry: That makes a lot of sense. Thank you so much for taking the time to help us create more awareness around this dangerous topic!