She did a lot of sighing and shaking her head if that’s any indicator of how serious the situation is. Some are calling it an epidemic. Gay Shepherd, Tech police chief, is planning her next move in response to the outbreak of “plant food” hospitalizations.
“We’re all scrambling around to find some guidelines to address this,” Shepherd said.
In case you don’t already know, Cookeville Regional Medical Center’s emergency room has seen more than 30 cases in the last month where patients displayed symptoms associated with “plant food” and “bath salts,” two recent crazes that mimic ecstasy. Under current laws, the drugs are perfectly legal . . . and extremely dangerous.
If you Google “Molly’s Plant Food” and click on the first link, you will find an anonymous blog post from November that says, “Unlike some of the other legal ecstasy pills, Molly’s Plant Food had me rolling balls, and it almost mimics the roll of pure MDMA.”
“It’s complete fraud,” Shepherd said about Go Faded, one of the organizations that distributes the so-called Molly’s Plant Food.
But it’s not illegal.
“As far as possession, our hands are tied,” Shepherd said. “At this point, it’s not illegal to have it.”
And it’s not just a be-nice-to-the-college-kids-so-you-don’t-crush-their-dreams rule of thumb because the Cookeville Police Department is under the same limitations.
“Consumption, though-yeah, we could probably address that,” Shepherd said. “If you have ingested it in some form, and you are under the influence, you can be arrested for public intoxication.
“Protective custody is pretty much what it boils down to,” she said. “You get real paranoid and stuff; you’re going to have to come down, and it’s a real long high, usually.”
Shepherd said if someone becomes a hazard to themselves or to others by consuming plant food, legal or not, they can be taken into custody, which usually means taken to the hospital.
According to medical experts, the drug, which can be ingested, injected, snorted, smoked, or taken anally, is only one oxygen molecule away from being MDMA, or molly, and can lead to serious neurological damage, kidney failure or death. Molly is an amphetamine taken by itself or added to other drugs to make ecstasy.
The Cookeville Police Department, along with State Rep. Ryan Williams, has been visiting local stores to request that owners stop selling the product. Shepherd said it’s worth between $20 and $40 for four capsules.
“There may be some retailer out there that doesn’t know,” she said, “but I doubt it because their profit margin has to be pretty huge.”
Shepherd attended a community meeting last Thursday along with representatives from Tech, the Putnam County school system, the health department, Cookeville Regional Medical Center, the Red Cross, Tennessee Highway Patrol, the fire department, and the district attorney’s office to talk about the outbreak and inform officials about its seriousness.
The Office of Residential Life hosted its own meeting Monday morning to discuss an educational campaign against the drugs-one that would discourage students from trying them.
Others are going further than public information. Last Tuesday, Williams filed a bill with the Tennessee Legislature. The bill, if passed, would make the sale of plant food and bath salts a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,500.
Shepherd says she feels motivated, not powerless.
“We need to get the word out that this stuff’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” she said. “There’s a possibility you could die or be brain-dead.