Patricia Lucas wants to keep drugs out of Barre. She works at the Return House, a substance-free facility for young men on furlough from prison.
Patricia Lucas: There's a lot of regulations and stipulations they have to follow.
Reporter Gina Bullard: Like no drugs?
Lucas: No drugs, no alcohol.
But clients have been using drugs-- only these were legal, synthetic cannabinoids known as K2 or Spice. At least they were legal until a little more than a month ago. That's when Gov. Peter Shumlin, the Vt. Health Department, and Public Safety banned K2 and five other designer drugs, like bath salts.
K2 is manufactured. It's dried herbs sprayed with chemicals. It gives a feeling similar to marijuana. It's sold as a potpourri, but people are smoking it and it could have dangerous consequences.
"We were seeing young men becoming physically ill, sick to their stomach, vomiting. And I've read where people have committed suicide, people have had uncontrollable blood pressure," Lucas said. "I just felt that once it was banned it would finally be over with and off the shelves," she said.
But that hasn't been the case. Clients at the halfway house are still finding it. And so did WCAX News.
At the Fired Up Smoke Shop in South Barre the synthetic cannabinoid comes in a variety of flavors.
Our undercover video captured the clerk asking Reporter Gina Bullard if she had ever tried any of it.
Bullard: No, have you?
Clerk: Yeah, once. It's just like a replacement for other things that people might get into.
We also found a shopper whose brother tried it.
Shopper: I was a little scared, so I didn't try it. He's had a couple bad headaches and vomiting and not due to flu bug or anything, so I don't know if it's directed towards that or not.
Clerk: It could be.
Clerk: People on like probation or the military-- they just want it.
Bullard: Will this show up on a drug test?
Clerk: No, unless they test for it specifically. But they can't test for something they don't know.
Barre Town Police were surprised when we showed them what we found. Chief Michael Stevens was also surprised that K2 had been banned in Vermont. He had no idea.
Bullard: Did you know it was banned?
Chief Michael Stevens: I did not.
Bullard: Why do you think that is?
Stevens: Umm, I think a lot of information was sent out for the bath salts.
Bath salts were the main focus of the ban. The Shumlin Administration pushed the new law following a WCAX News report this summer.
"I think we have an education piece that's lacking here," said Capt. Glen Hall of the Vt. Drug Task Force.
The Public Safety Department admits there's some confusion about who's responsible for getting the word out about the ban on designer drugs. The Health Department says it's working on an informational campaign. Hall says it's likely Fired Up had no idea it was selling K2 illegally.
"It is possible there are stores in Vermont that still have it on their shelves and may not be aware of the ban," Hall said.
That lack of knowledge poses a challenge for Patricia Lucas as she tries to keep her clients clean.
"I'm worried it will lead to deaths," she said.
We did reach out to the owner of Fired Up multiple times with no luck getting a hold of him. Wednesday, we stopped by the shop again, but it was closed because he was out sick. We visited another store in Barre City. And the owner there told us he no longer sells K2. He was aware that it been banned.
So it sounds like in some cases there's a lack of awareness about this ban.
The Health Department says it shares the responsibility with Public Safety in spreading the word. It has a new fact sheet about all the newly banned drugs, but that fact sheet still has not been sent out yet.
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