20 Apr Synthetic Drug ‘Sass’ Blamed in Illinois Woman’s Death
A formerly obscure synthetic drug called “sass” is back in the news after a tragic death in suburban Chicago. At 2 a.m. on Nov. 11, a 21-year-old woman named Cristina Villasana was rushed to a hospital emergency room suffering from acute distress apparently related to drug abuse. Her situation continued to deteriorate and she eventually lost her fight for life, joining the ranks of all the unfortunate souls whose futures have been ended far too soon because of illicit drugs.
Last summer, Villasana was arrested and charged with two counts of selling heroin to undercover police officers. But it was not her association with this infamous opiate that led her to her tragic fate. The companions who brought her to the hospital say Villasana had consumed a version of the party drug Ecstasy known as sass, or sally. This relatively unknown substance is purportedly derived from the oil of the sassafras plant, which had been previously banned as a cooking oil or food additive by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because of its identification as a cancer-causing agent. When taken in excessive amounts, sassafras oil can cause a number of troubling and dangerous symptoms, including high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, profuse sweating and a highly elevated body temperature. If ingested in sufficient quantities, it can cause cardiac arrest or bleeding of the brain leading to stroke.
At this point, no one is sure just how widely used sass actually is, who is using it or where they are getting it. This is thanks to the amorphous nature of the synthetic drug milieu—as soon as one substance passes out of circulation, a dozen new ones appear overnight to take its place. And until people start showing up in emergency rooms or on morgue slabs, no one outside of a few aficionados has any idea which synthetic drugs are en vogue at any particular time.
Synthetic Drugs Are a Threat Everywhere
The word “epidemic” is seldom used in connection with synthetic drugs. Most carve out a temporary niche in the black market before disappearing back into the ether, forever gone and soon to be forgotten.
But if all synthetic drugs are viewed as one lone, rampaging substance, operating in unison, the picture changes dramatically. On a global scale, 348 synthetic drugs were identified as being in circulation in 2013 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and that number has undoubtedly grown in 2014. Drugs labeled as synthetic marijuana are by far the most popular type of these substances, and in the U.S. almost one in nine 12th graders admits to having used synthetic cannabis within the past year. Among illicit drugs, only natural marijuana was used more frequently, and if the use of other synthetics is factored in, the percentage of teens trying them in any given year would likely pass 20 percent.
Incidentally, it would be a mistake to assume that synthetic marijuana is somehow safer because of its name. Calling drugs like this “synthetic marijuana” is little more than a marketing ploy, and people who believe taking these substances is the same thing as consuming the real thing are kidding themselves.
From “Buyer Beware” to “Buyer Be Aware”
Synthetic drugs thrive in the darkness, sprouting and proliferating in an environment where few questions are asked and even fewer answers are given. Quality control is a foreign concept, if not a downright oxymoron, among illicit drug makers, and people who consume synthetic drugs never know just what kind of poisons they are putting in their bodies, or in what quantities.
The death in Illinois linked to sass may not be repeated; or it may be repeated a hundred times before this new type of Ecstasy drifts out of fashion. The only thing certain about the synthetic drug market is that nothing is certain, and that is what is putting so many people in harm’s way. The people making and selling these drugs can’t and shouldn’t be trusted, and yet the millions of young men and women who take synthetics at parties, on college campuses or in the privacy of their bedrooms are putting their lives in the hands of these unscrupulous peddlers.
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