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Synthetic drugs take center stage

Synthetic drugs have prompted a variety of actions recently by members of the community, including several different attempts to stop the sale of them.
Daniel Boone High School students protested for several hours Feb. 23 at Ultimate Smoke, a store in Gray that sells synthetic drugs.
“The Boone students organized on their own to voice their opinion on bath salts and (synthetic marijuana),” said Washington County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Kevin Sanders while monitoring the protest. “We’re just making sure everybody is safe on both sides.”
Students stood along Bobby Hicks Highway holding signs and chanting “Save Our Youth.” They encouraged drivers passing by to blow their horns in a show of support.
Messages on the poster boards included, “No More Synthetics,” “Enough is Enough,” and “Synthetics Kill – Know the Drill.”
The protest was sparked after an incident at the high school Feb. 21 where one student’s erratic behavior resulted in his being taken to a local hospital.
WCSO Sgt. John Rupe said the student appeared to be under the influence of something, and the school resource officer had to call for back-up when he became violent. The student remains in the Johnson City Medical Center.
On that same day, Boone junior Danielle Hughes died at her home from suspected cardiac arrest. Some believe Hughes may have been using synthetic drugs, but her brother came to last week’s protest in an effort to clear her name.
“She was the only sister I’ve got, and I don’t get another one. I can guarantee you she was not on drugs,” Joshua Smith said. “I want them to know my sister was never involved in any kind of drugs. I want her name cleared, that’s all I want.”
Smith and several friends wore purple T-shirts with “R.I.P. Danielle Hughes” on the fronts.
A smaller group of Boone students and alumni also showed up at the store in Gray at the same time last week. They were dressed in black and said they came to protest the protest.
“These guys don’t even sell bath salts,” said 18-year-old Brent Chaffin. “This small business is in trouble, and that’s why I’m here.”
Chaffin said he has used synthetic marijuana in the past.
“I smoked it, but I didn’t like it,” he said. “But I’m not trying to stop others. It’s their own fault if they smoke it.”
Kody Hall, 18, said protests such as the one last week hurt the economy.
“They’re taking away jobs and trying to put people out of work,” he said.
During a meeting being held at the same time as the protest, Washington County Board of Education Chairman Clarence Mabe said he has never seen a situation like the one being created by synthetic drugs.
“For the first time in my life, the parents and kids are going to have to take care of it,” he said. “Law enforcement can’t do it because there’s no law. Politicians can’t do it without passing a law, and that will take time.
Students are going to have to stand up and say, ‘We’re not going to take this,’ and their parents are going to have to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
Mabe said school board members shared their concerns with legislators during the recent Day on the Hill event held earlier this month.
“We told them they need to do something,” he said. “They have a couple of bills, but it takes time.”
One of the hardest things for Mabe to believe is the business owners’ continued willingness to provide the products.
“How could you sleep at night knowing you sold something that hurt a student?”
Dr. William Flanary, director of secondary education, said a joint effort is being planned to tackle the problem.
The WCSO, the East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine and the ETSU College of Pharmacy are partnering with schools, parents and teachers to provide information to students down to the fifth grade on the damage synthetic drugs can cause.
“An emergency room nurse and physicians from Franklin Woods Community Hospital have also volunteered their services to speak in the schools,” he said.
According to Flanary, the plan is to inundate legislators with letters asking for action.
Several concerned mothers have created an organization to fight synthetic drugs, too. Tammy Eldridge, of Jonesborough, and other concerned mothers created PASS – Parents Against Synthetic Sales with the intention of holding protests next week at area stores that sell synthetic drugs.
“We want to organize parents and those who are standing on the front lines to battle this problem,” she said. “We want to make the smoke shop owners aware they are not welcome in our community.”
It appears the student protest outside Ultimate Smoke last week may have done just that. Reports indicate the business officially closed one day after the protest.
But by Saturday, a new store named Above the Clouds Emporium was open in Boones Creek. Boone students held an afternoon protest Feb. 25 across the street from the store located at the corner of North Roan Street and Boone Avenue. The Above the Clouds staff member refused to answer questions from the Herald & Tribune.