Because these drugs can be designed and created quickly, they often hit the market and streets before legislation and regulatory bodies have an opportunity to ban and restrict the spread of the specific substance. Synthetics are often labeled as “natural” products, spice, synthetic marijuana, incense, “bath salts,” plant food, and other deceptive packaging. The synthetics are labeled to mask their intended purpose. For example, they are often marked “not for human consumption.”

Even when a particular compound is declared illegal, a slight change in the chemical components can evade legal restrictions. The new, modified drug is not (yet) illegal, and another potential destructive combination of chemicals is on the street as a new illicit drug.

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Of note, less than 1% of our clients at American Addiction Centers (AAC) identify synthetic substances as their primary drug of choice (considering all admissions from 2014 and 2015, year to date). However, since January 2014, AAC has had over 120 individuals admit for treatment who identify designer drugs as a substance of abuse, with an upward trend of prevalence.

Sixty-eight percent of those in this subset of individuals served by AAC who use designer drugs are under the age of 25. Synthetic or designer drugs are also more likely to be a secondary (41%) or tertiary (36%) drug of choice rather than primary (23%) for this subset. The reality is that most individuals (98%) who enter treatment and who admit to abusing this type of drug are more often than not using other substances.

It is a fact that synthetics are growing in popularity among young people. Of the illicit drugs most used by high-school seniors, they are second only to marijuana, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse.1