LAND O'LAKES — David, 21, didn't give his last name when he spoke in front of a crowd of law enforcement, citizens and television cameras Friday. Instead, he gave his story.
The first time David smoked Spice was in 2010, and friends had told him its effects mimicked those of marijuana, but it was legal.
Over time, it became the most addictive drug David had ever used, he said. He smoked it regularly and soon found himself waking up in the night with hallucinations. He saw demons, he said, and often lost track of where he was. He had to sleep with music to drown out the voices he knew weren't real.
It took a loaded gun to stop David from smoking again. He smoked Spice with a friend, then began arguing with him. His friend pulled out a gun, pointed it at him.
"I knew, staring down the barrel of that gun, that if I didn't stop, if I didn't quit, I would die," David said, choking on emotion.
In March, David moved back in with his parents. By then he had lost his job, his home. He said all he owns are his clothes. He said he needed the support of his family and his fiancee to finally quit.
His speech was part of a public unveiling of a new program. Starting Monday, convenience stores can display stickers showing they don't sell synthetic marijuana, Spice or K2 if they sign an agreement with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office promising to avoid these drugs.
Suncoast Mobil Gas Station on State Road 52 in Land O'Lakes was the first to receive the sticker.
Sheriff Chris Nocco, New Port Richey Police Chief James Steffens, state Sen. Mike Fasano and members of the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention in Pasco County were in attendance, as were local activists Erik and Colleen Suojanen. Their son, Jake, was hospitalized after smoking Spice from a homemade bong.
After David and others spoke, the crowd moved to the cafe inside the gas station. Two round, orange tables had been pushed together. On one, plastic, squat jars and pocket-sized bags in bright greens, purples and pinks containing synthetic drugs were displayed. On the other was the agreement that Paul Jallo, Suncoast's owner, would sign to receive his sticker and promise not to sell drugs.
Jallo signed the form with a blue gel pen, the sheriff peering over his shoulder. They shook hands after he set the pen down, and the audience applauded.
Jallo took a sticker from the table and went to the glass door outside the store. The first time he tried to paste it to the door, it went on crooked. He slowly peeled it back off, then sealed it on.
David watched, his expression somewhere between anxious and quiet pleasure.
David's story has a happy ending. He is in the process of earning his certified nurse's assistant license, and he will marry soon.
But David's story isn't everyone's, Nocco said. Some end in burials.
Mary Kenney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.