Like many east of the river residents, Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner [ANC] Dionne Brown [8D07] is hardly surprised to see youth in her community selling drugs. But one Friday night, she witnessed several people going in and out of a Dollar Store on South Capitol Street.
"I was like, 'it's no way, all these people are going into a Dollar Store this time of night,'" said Brown, who usually surveys her area, which covers Bellevue and the Far Southwest neighborhoods.
She discovered the store sold a product known as K2 or synthetic marijuana.
"The shop owners were unrepentant," said Brown. "I told them these are illegally banned substances, and one said he needed to send his kid to college. He didn't blink." The business wasn't a "responsible community partner" and she opposed them however she could. Brown, a vocal Ward 8 activist, would no longer continue her fight as an ANC. She's not running for re-election this year. However, she will continue to stand up as a resident.
K2, Spice, Blaze or Red X Dawn are monikers for synthetic marijuana, which children can buy at gas stations and convenience stores. A common variety in D.C. is the Scooby Snax Potpourri, which features the cartoon character, Scooby Doo. According to data from the 2011 Monitoring the Future survey of youth drug-use trends, 11.4 percent of 12th graders used synthetic marijuana that year, making it the second most commonly used illicit drug among high school seniors. Its adverse effects include mood swings, anxiety, increased heart rate and paranoia.
Although the Drug Enforcement Agency banned synthetic drugs such as bath salts and incense and chemicals used to produce them, new variants have circumvented the ban. They are marketed under different brand names and contain legal chemicals.
Brown shared her frustrations with a large audience at an event, hosted by the Wards 7&8 D.C. Prevention Center [W7&8 DCPC] at the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization in Northeast on Friday, Oct. 19. The W7&8 DCPC is a collaborative venture of the Department of Health Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration, Bridging Resources In Communities, Inc. [BRIC] – the lead community-based agency for this initiative – and the Ophelia Egypt Program Center of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, Inc.
An eight-panel group with expertise in drug prevention, narcotics investigation, advocacy, medicine, criminal justice, as well as youth leaders led an open dialogue on K2, and underage drinking.
"Whenever we do youth-focused community conversations, our purpose is simple," said Rosalind Parker, president of BRIC, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the overall quality of life in communities most in need. "We want to ask the youth questions that allow us to hear directly from them, hear in their words the local conditions fostering youth access to, and use of various drugs. We also engage the youth around some solutions which we also call actionable strategies that they can participate in."
W7&8 DCPC uses a public health, social development model to engage in community-level prevention that uses three functions to address priority risk factors and target outcomes – education, leadership and change.
The youth at the meeting theorized on reasons for using K2 or alcohol – following friends, looking cool but most important, some said K2 can't be detected in drug screenings. Several admitted they have friends who abused one form of drug or another.
According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, nearly one quarter of D.C. public high school students were early alcohol drinkers before age 13, which is associated with other risky behaviors. Even more stark is that between 900 and 1,800 teens, age 12 to 17, abused or were dependent on alcohol, according to a 2007-2008 National Survey of Drug Use and Health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a public health agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"I don't see consequences such as cirrhosis in young people," said Dr. Robyn Miller from the Children's National Medical Center about alcohol's effects. "But I've treated young people who've been drinking for their birthday and they didn't know how they got there or what's going on."
Joining the conversation was Deputy Director of Demand Reduction for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, David Mineta, who said nationally there're about 2.5 million youth on drugs.
"Prevention must be comprehensive," Mineta said. "Communities must continue to have key relationships with law enforcement and others in the health field."
He said communities should work together on reducing demand, as businesses Brown mentioned aren't closing if they continue to make profits.
"National Substance Abuse Prevention Month gives us an opportunity to assist local communities in their drug prevention programs, and it's an honor for us to support this work," Mineta added.