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Synthetic Drug Use on the Rise Again; Police and EMS Encountering Bizzare, Dangerous Behavior

Sarah Brechbill

There’s probably no better person to warn about the dangers of synthetic drugs than Teresa Woolson of Oswego…

"My son, 2 1/2 years ago, had a fatal reaction to synthetic drugs."

Victor Woolson exhibited some of the common symptoms when he took the drug…a spike in body temperature, seizure, and heart attack.  
  Teresa Woolson says her 19-year-old son was not a drug user.  The model college student gave in to peer pressure, and it cost him his life.

"From what I've been learning over the last 2 1/2 years, it doesn't matter what the package says, they're all different.  They're all just poisons sprayed on leaves."

Congressmember John Katko says there have been 20 overdoses in the last week alone, and more than 40 in the past month.  

"Synthetic marijuana is obtained from corner stores, head shops, and even online.  It's been a constant source of struggle for us."

The former federal prosecutor says like the epidemic of three summers ago, drug manufacturers are able to stay one step ahead of the law.  

"If a synthetic drug mimics the effects of a controlled substance, then you can get it on the federal drug analog statute. Once it gets on a drug analog statute, it then can be prosecuted just like a drug.  The problem is, if they change the chemical composition at all, they have to go back to the drawing board, get it back on the drug analog list,  there's a process, and it takes time."

Katko says tighter federal laws are needed to address the synthetic drug problem once and for all.  

Credit Sarah Brechbill / WAER News
A map showing overdose calls from synthetic drugs in just one week.

  Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler says they've responded to countless dangerous calls all over the city:

"It's only a matter of time when someone is going to take this stuff and it will end tragically in some way for two reasons:  Number one, the health reasons.  That's dangerous enough.  The other aspect of it is our police officers walking into a situation where you have people who are out of control.  They are not in control of their mental faculties.  If they pick up a weapon or are threatening the officer, the officer can be forced to use deadly physical force in addressing the situation, or prior to the officer arriving, they can harm someone else."

Fowler says they’ve responded to cases where some people are unresponsive, staring blankly into space, and groaning…to others who become combative, and start screaming and flailing uncontrollably. 

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at