(This article is based on a presentation made for the Chief Pat Connel of the Urbana Police Department, who has been involved in the interdiction of drugs with various agencies since the late 1970s.)
The next time you stop at a gas station/convenience store, or are in a chain drug store, take a look around. You’ll find several items that can be used as drug paraphernalia.
Obviously, cigarette rolling papers are used for marijuana. But also look at the cigar section. You’ll find many cigars these days that are flavored with cherry, strawberry, and grape. They’re often used for “Blunting.” That’s where a pot user takes a third of the tobacco out of the cigar and replaces it with marijuana. The cigar filters the acrid marijuana smoke, and users also believe it covers the smell of the drug. (The term came from the “Philly Blunt” type of cigar, which was first used for this.) Also available are empty cigar rolls. Most people don’t roll their own cigars, but they work very well with marijuana.
The marijuana available today is not what it was back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Then, the premier weed, Acapulco Gold, had an 8% THC content; today, prime weed like Skunk has a 28% THC content. For a while you also had K-2, which was “synthetic” weed. The chemical composition was slightly changed so it didn’t match cannabis, to get around the law. The law’s been changed now so it is illegal, but last year the man who supplied K-2 in the Champaign/Urbana area made over a million dollars from it.
Another popular cigar comes in a glass tube. People will buy it, not for the cigar, but to use the tube to make crack cocaine. Crack is powder cocaine that is dissolved in heated water and then reconstituted in small rocks by adding good ol’ baking soda. Crack, along with Meth, is a main cause of violent crime across the country.
The glass pipe used for smoking crack is illegal simply to possess, since it’s only used for drugs. However, crack addicts have adapted. The police noticed a rise in cars being vandalized by having their antennas snapped off. It turned out that addicts were using 6” long hollow sections of the antennas as their pipes.
A local grocer had reported that the number one item being shoplifted from his store was not the usual cigarettes but was in fact Chore Boy metal scrubbers. Crack addicts would rip apart the scrubbers and stuffed pieces into the antenna tubes to hold the crack cocaine. Police officers will sometimes stop cars and find small pieces of the scrubbers littering the floor.
Crack cocaine has a high ignition point and has to be exposed direct to a flame to smoke. Smokers often use a type of lighter available at most convenience stores that advertises itself as windless, so that golfers could use it out on the course and not worry about the wind blowing it out while they light their cigars. Of course, that is a valid use, but they’re also used for crack. These days one of the signs of using crack is burnt lips. The antenna metal heats up, but they still suck on it to get their crack.
Powder Cocaine usually goes by the nickname “Girl” these days. It’s often cut with Inositol Powder, which is a vitamin B compound that’s available at any GNC. Heroin has had a renaissance and is once again a commonly abused drug. While it’s normally administered intravenously, some will snort it, usually by mixing it with Dormin, an over-the-counter sleep aid.
“Huffing” – the inhalation of gas or fumes to get a high – is probably the most popular abuse in middle and high schools. Rush and Locker Room, two of the most popular inhalants, are sold as “liquid incense” in head shops for around $10 for a small bottle. However, they’re filled with ethyl chloride, which is used for cleaning the heads of VCRs. You can buy it at the local Wal-mart for $2.50.
Ecstacy (MDMA) is very popular in the University setting. One nickname, the love drug, comes from how it was introduced. It was used by marriage counselors to loosen the inhibitions of couples. One scary drug now being used is sold as “bath salts,” under names like Vanilla Sky and Ivory Wave. It’s called the poor man’s cocaine, and is snorted. However, it’s actually an MDMA derivative and can cause the intense physical problems of Ecstacy such as a racing pulse, as well as psychological problems.
Chief Connel told the story of a local merchant who was shocked when he took the class. Years earlier, a high school student had come to him asking to get small vials of nitrous oxide for a science project. The vials (which look like CO2 canisters used in pellet guns) are legally available since they are used by cake decorators as propellants for icing applications. The merchant provided these to the student, and afterward many other students got vials from him. Nitrous oxide is also known as Laughing Gas when it’s used by dentists for patients. However, it is one of the most popular items for huffing, with the street name “Whippet” because it’s used as the propellant in spray whipped cream cans. The merchant didn’t know until the chief’s class how nitrous oxide can be abused. But as with most drugs and their legal, common paraphernalia, learning about them can breed awareness of problems and help prevent abuse.