Citizens fight synthetic drug use

The city of Buckhannon appears to be moving forward with the proposed adoption of a substance abuse ordinance after literally taking a stand when a speaker requested supporters of the plan to rise from their seats during Thursday’s City Council meeting.

Joyce Harris-Thacker, the Upshur County Family Resource Network director, asked the city leaders to stand in support of the ordinance, and many audience members also took to the opportunity to rise from their seats as a show of support.

City Attorney David McCauley presented a draft of the proposed ordinance, which he hopes could be ready for its first reading by next month. If the first reading is conducted at the next meeting, and eventually passes without delay, McCauley said it could become effective as early as April 6.

McCauley said the ordinance covers everything, including “the kitchen sink.” The drafted ordinance covers all aspects and languages that could be associated with synthetic drugs, or any other harmful substances that are similarly used. In the drafted ordinance language are clauses that would allow its enforcement on the users and sellers of the substance, including the landlords or property owners who knowingly allow the substances to be sold on any property they own.

“I don’t know how anybody who has a business can sell this crap that’s designed to hurt other people,” councilman Ron Pugh said. “I don’t understand how any landlord can allow a business to be in their building that sells that. It’s just ridiculous.”

Pugh vowed to do everything in his power to “get this stuff out of our city,” because he said he was totally against it.

Catherine Cuppari, the landlord of the location that houses Mom and Pop’s Hippy Shop, a seller of the items the proposed ordinance seeks to ban, said she was unaware the business was offering such products. She is the mother-in-law of Buckhannon Councilwoman Pam Cuppari.

“I did not know what they were selling,” Catherine Cuppari said. “My lease says nothing illegal for city, state or country. If anything is illegal, I am against it. Yes, I am the landlord. I’m guilty of that, but nothing else.”

Elizabeth Shahan of the Harrison County Family Resource Network, who is an Upshur County resident and who oversees substance abuse prevention services for West Virginia, told the city council that the marketing idea of bath salts and other synthetic drugs is that the substances are reported to be legal and safe, an idea she said couldn’t be further from the truth. She said Harrison County is known as the No. 1 place in the nation with a designer drug problem, and it reportedly has the most incidents in the nation for bath salts.

“This is new, and it’s alarming,” she said. “It’s sad because I get to see a new drug in my generation, and that’s terrifying to me. It’s a very, very harmful drug.”

Shahan said because the synthetic drugs are so new, the long-term effects are not known. Although they have the reputation of being “a safe high,” Shahan said these substances made to mimic illegal drugs are “actually worse” than their unlawful counterparts.

Clemens said the issue needs to be considered on a larger scale further up in the government. He said that even if the city adopts the ordinance, shops that sell the unsavory product would then pop up in nearby areas outside the city’s jurisdiction.

Shahan said she “was appalled and clearly, extremely upset” that a new shop quickly opened in the wake of federal authorities shutting down Hot Stuff and Cool Things, which resulted in federal charges against the owners of the business.

“What scares me the most is the number of customers that go into that store (Mom and Pop’s Hippy Shop),” Clemens added. “I’m talking about a customer every five, 10 minutes.”

Del. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, brought some examples of the packaging that these products come in, with the newer samples labeled “Not for human consumption.” They are marketed with designs that seem to be more appealing to youth. The packaging Hamilton presented to the city council contained was empty, and Hamilton said he borrowed it from the Upshur County Probation Department.

“I’m in support of what you could do with this ordinance,” Hamilton said. “Once we pass it in the City of Buckhannon, then my next presentation will be at the Upshur County Commission.”