Nearly one in five high school age children in Hernando County have used synthetic marijuana, according to a state survey, a teen substance abuse rate one-third higher than the rest of Florida. The 2012 Department of Children and Families report also found high school girls in Hernando were more than twice as likely to have used the now-illegal drugs over the previous 30 days, compared to the their peers across the state.
The high rate of substance abuse among Hernando's youths, compiled from a survey of 1,230 middle and high school students in the county, should be all the evidence authorities need to continue the crackdown on retailers peddling illicit compounds known commonly as Spice, K2 or bath salts. Last week, Hernando commissioners correctly adopted their own ordinance outlawing sale and possession of synthetic marijuana.
The local law came at the request of the Hernando County Community Anti Drug Coalition and the Sheriff's Office, which also is enforcing a state ban on the products marketed to children and young adults as incense or plant food. Users smoke the substance to mimic a marijuana high, but reported side effects have included violent hallucinations, combativeness and suicide attempts. Calls to poison control centers from people ill from smoking synthetic marijuana doubled in Florida between 2010 and 2011 and at least 20 people died statewide from overdoses, according to 2011 statistics.
The Hernando ordinance, 15 months in the making and modeled after a local law in Broward County, carries penalties of up to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail. Other counties have used their own ordinances to control the contraband and Hernando is smart to join.
Pasco County, which adopted an ordinance targeting the product's packaging, saw a judge fine a store owner $23,500 after finding him guilty of 47 violations and another store owner in Holiday shut down this month after being fined $14,000. Last month in Hillsborough County, police and code enforcement officers raided 10 businesses and issued citations that could total $1 million in fines. Hernando deputies previously warned more than 100 retailers about the state ban, then followed up with undercover purchases and five arrests.
Keeping Hernando's children safe while pursuing adults pushing dangerous synthetic compounds is an imperative public health issue and commissioners are wise to give local law enforcement all the help they can.