Who wouldn’t be impressed with Karen Dobner’s efforts to rid the Fox Valley of synthetic marijuana, or “potpourri” as it’s colloquially known? And she’s getting results! Aurora, Sugar Grove and North Aurora all have banned the substance, with St. Charles and Chicago likely to follow soon.
Had one of those products likely contributed my son’s death, I might be working my butt off too ban it, too.
I’m sure most of you have already heard of the tragic story that started with purchasing some “iAroma,” a legal substance at the time, from an Aurora tobacco shop.
According to Karen Dobner, Max called his older brother later that afternoon and said, “I smoked that legal stuff and my heart is pounding and I’m having a panic attack.” Despite his brother's attempts to calm him down, Max was last seen driving at high rate of speed on Mooseheart Road when he ending his too-short life.
“I don’t want any family to go through what my family went through,” Karen Dobner told reporters. “I don’t want any kids to have to go through what my son was going through.”
No one could argue with that sentiment, and I can certainly understand someone channeling their grief and anger in this proactive manner. It’s a heck of a lot better than just sitting around and slowly dying yourself.
But as much as I understand her motivation, my nagging fear is, not only are her efforts likely to fail, but they might actually make the situation even worse.
In her response to my previous Beacon-News column on this subject, Dobner wrote that, “Max would have NEVER smoked that stuff if it was illegal. And, I can’t tell you how many people, not just the young, have told me that they thought that because it was legal, it was safe.”
But that's circular logic. Because as fast as they can make these designer drugs illegal, a new one takes its place. And the fact that something’s legal doesn't make it safe, either—see cigarettes.
The supreme irony in all this is, iAroma was the “answer” to the state’s decision to ban “K2,” another marijuana substitute. All these companies have to do is tweak a drug’s chemical composition, and they’re right back in business. And it seems that, with each iteration, these synthetic products get more and more dangerous.
An MD who’s seen an increase in synthetic-pot-related emergency room visits said, “People who smoke marijuana don’t tend to wind up in the ER. They just want to watch a video, eat some ice cream and go to sleep.”
This phenomenon reminds me of the stories of deadly wood alcohol making it into much of Prohibition-era bootleg whiskey, blinding and killing thousands. The “cure” in these cases can be far worse than the “disease.” We do seem doomed to repeat history don’t we?
Think of the illegal drugs that didn’t even exist when we were teenagers—crack, ecstasy and crystal meth, to name a few. Considering the higher concentrations of THC, current marijuana strains certainly aren’t your father’s pot anymore. Still, it’s nowhere near as dangerous as the synthetic stuff.
And legal drugs are even worse. Prescription painkillers account for 15,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. That’s more than all the heroin and cocaine overdoses combined, and those legal pharmaceuticals can be found right on the shelf in your medicine cabinet.
I really don’t want to cause Mrs. Dobner any more pain—she’s been through enough—but if we really want to prevent that next teenage synthetic drug death, it all comes down to personal responsibility.
We all make choices, and those choices have consequences, intended or otherwise. Physics may offer that consistent equal-and-opposite reaction, but sometimes life doesn’t. Max Dobner paid far too high a price for a mild error in judgment, but it was ultimately his choice to smoke that drug.
Prohibition doesn’t work. “Just say no” doesn’t work. Without becoming the embodiment of the Sword of Damocles, the best we can do is arm our children with the knowledge of potential consequences of pharmaceuticals—legal and illegal—and then be consistent ourselves. If we take prescription drugs at every turn, what message does that send our children?
Again, I admire Mrs. Dobner's efforts to warn us of the dangers involved in using any synthetic drug, but I wish she stopped there. Because, while her ongoing mission might work in the short run, considering what might replace iAroma, her efforts to ban these substances might do more long run harm than good.