How Much Do You Know About Newer Synthetic Drugs?

synthetic drugs

How much do you really know about synthetic drugs? There are the synthetic cannabinoids, which go by names like Spice, K2, Genie, Bliss, Potpourri, Black Mamba, Herbal Incense and a host of others. This synthetic “marijuana” was responsible for 300 visits to the Emergency Room in Alabama and Mississippi in April. Also in April, 6 separate incidents in Virginia resulted in the hospitalization of 7 people including 1 death, after ingesting Spice. Side effects include paranoia, hallucinations, agitation, elevated heart rate and blood pressure and panic attacks. The onset is 3-5 minutes and the “high” lasts from 1-8 hours. This drug is typically sold in small, silvery plastic bags of leaves and is intended to be smoked.

Another class of synthetic drugs is referred to as “bath salts” or synthetic cathinones. U.S. emergency room records showed that bath salts were responsible for 23,000 visits in 2011. Users can experience a deadly increase in body temperature, delusions, violence and psychosis.

And now, there’s a new one: Flakka.  Flakka is a synthetic cathinone, said to be much more potent than its predecessors. It is sometimes marketed as “Molly” a less potent form of the drug. As a result, and as is the case with most synthetics, users don’t know what they’re getting. It is also referred to as “gravel” and is white or pink in color with a foul odor.

Some of the older synthetic drugs have been around since the 1980’s including MDMA, more commonly known as “Ecstasy”.  These drugs are still around and are sometimes combined with the newer drugs, heightening the danger. Because there are so many deaths resulting from the use of these substances, there is a blog dedicated to memorials to those who have lost their lives.

For more information on the effects of these drugs, visit Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Let’s work together to educate parents and students about the deadly consequences of using a substance that is often marketed as safe and/or legal, before there is even one more death.

Spring = High Rates of Violence

B & W Flower

Earlier in the week, I wrote about the increase in suicides during spring months. We also need to be increasingly mindful of indicators of potential violence at this time of year.

Spring = Higher Rates of Violence

In my research, I found a total of 96 confirmed injuries or deaths by shooting or stabbing in secondary and post-secondary schools during the months of April and May in the U.S. Of course, we want to be vigilant at all times, but even more so during this time of year. Whether the factors responsible for these high springtime rates parallel those involved in increased spring rates of suicide is unclear. Further research may help to clarify what role, if any, is played by springtime weather, social, and biological factors in these high rates.

Below is a list of April and May dates that have been host to the tragedy of a school shooting (it may not be exhaustive). Some of the incidents have included suicide of the perpetrator. Because individuals who are contemplating an act of targeted violence often identify with, and wish to emulate, previous attackers, these dates may be significant to a given individual. It is a time to be particularly vigilant, especially with persons of concern.

April 2, 1867, 1921, 2012
April 5, 1975
April 6, 1904, 1918
April 7, 1977, 1982
April 9, 1891, 1952, 2014
April 10, 1996
April 11, 2014
April 12, 1919, 1982, 1887, 1994, 2013
April 13, 2015
April 15, 1908, 1993
April 16, 1974, 1987, 1999, 2007, 2013
April 17, 1981, 1956, 1984
April 18, 1918, 2013
April 20, 1984, 1961, 1999
April 21, 2014
April 23, 1991
April 24, 1890, 1998, 2003
April 25, 1950
April 26, 1978, 2009
April 27, 1936, 1966
April 29, 1920
April 30, 1866
May 1, 1920, 1992 (2), 1958
May 4, 1956, 1970, 2014
May 5, 2014
May 6, 1930, 1940
May 7, 1935, 2004
May 8 2014
May 9, 2003
May 13, 1969
May 14, 1992 (2), 2013, 2014
May 15, 1920, 1954, 1970
May 16, 1986
May 17, 1889, 1984, 2001
May 18, 1906, 1927, 1979, 2009 (2)
May 19, 1998, 1936
May 20, 1988, 1999
May 21, 1998
May 22, 1930, 1968
May 23, 1940, 2011, 2014
May 24, 1878, 1879, 1979, 1993, 1998,
May 26, 1994, 2000, 2012
May 28,1931

In addition, both the Oklahoma City Bombing and the Boston Marathon Bombing occurred during the spring, on April 19, 1995 and April 15, 2013, respectively.

I would not suggest that you disseminate this information to students or parents but I do recommend reminding all staff and parents that this is a time of year to increase vigilance regarding signs of both suicide and violence.

Spring = Higher Suicide Rates

Spring suicide rates

It may be counterintuitive, but the numbers show that the rates of suicide are higher in the spring than during other times of year. It is estimated that 700 suicides occur each week in the United States. During the spring months, this number increases by roughly 15%, to 800 suicides per week.

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that rates are higher during the dreary months of winter and around the winter holidays. In fact, records from as far back as the 1800s show a peak in suicide rates during the spring months. One study conducted in 1995 followed rates in both the northern and southern hemisphere and found that rates were highest during each hemisphere’s spring months.

While there are a number of theories, none has been proven as the definitive explanation. Most focus on biological factors such as increased energy or inflammation that occurs in the body during spring. One theory postulates that increases in pollen also trigger anxiety producing chemicals in the body. Others seek social explanations such as the increased social activity that typically occurs after a winter of isolation.

Bottom line: Spring = higher suicide rates

Regardless of the cause, this is a time for increased vigilance and a reminder to staff, parents, and students about the increased risk of suicides in the spring and early summer months. Parents should be especially watchful during the transition from school to summer. You may want to post an article on  your district website and include an article in your next parent and staff newsletters to make sure everyone pays close attention to signs of depression and suicide during a time when many of us erroneously believe the risk is lower.

For additional suicide prevention resources, please feel free to contact me here.

Can Schools be Held Liable for Violence?


We are cognizant of covering all of our bases when it comes to school safety. We attend to physical security, school climate, crisis response plans, and prevention efforts. Even with all of those components in place, we wonder, “can we still be held liable if something happens in our school?”

A Colorado legislator recently introduced Senate Bill 213, which would allow the victims of school shootings or their families to sue schools when the violence is “reasonably foreseeable.” State lawmakers say they are “sending a directive to education officials to do more to keep students safe,” according to a recent article in Insurance Journal.

This bill would allow victims and their families to collect up to $350,000 from schools in a move legislators say will motivate education officials to improve school security. “It’s about holding them liable for providing a direct duty to care for those kids in their charge,” Republican Senate President Bill Cadman said.

Currently, schools have governmental immunity from being sued in Colorado. The measure allowing lawsuits would waive the state’s governmental immunity so schools could be sued for shootings.

While this bill has not yet passed, it is moving forward and is something to watch. We also want to keep an eye on the outcome of the wrongful death suit against the school board and city of Newtown, Connecticut that was filed in January by the parents of two students killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

The best way to protect ourselves from these types of legal concerns is also the best way to keep our students and staff safe – attend to all facets of school safety and be certain to review and update our practices and protocols regularly to reflect the most current research, practices and technology.

Threat Assessment Explained

TA Explained

When concerns about an individual’s words or behavior indicate that he or she may pose a danger to others, someone in your school district will be asked to judge whether the person does indeed pose a risk of violence.

Because this is a high-stakes assessment, school districts are advised to assess as a team rather than rely on one or two individuals to make the assessment. Violence threat assessment is a solid method for making this guided professional judgment. It is required of pre-K – 12 schools in the states of Virginia and Connecticut.

Threat Assessment Explained

The practice of violence threat assessment differs from the types of assessment used by forensic mental health professionals to determine the level of risk posed by an individual. Those practices, while effective with individuals, are not necessarily the best tools to prevent the type of targeted violence that occurs in school attacks. Violence threat assessment is designed not to predict, but to prevent violence. The focus is on four things: keeping everyone safe, preventing violence, solving the problem or grievance of the person of concern and getting help for the concerning individual. When we do this, we interrupt the pathway toward violence and change the outcome.

School threat assessment teams should be comprised of one or two building administrators, a school psychologist, social worker, school counselor, school resource officer, school nurse, and mental health professional. Team members need specialized training in the concepts, procedures, and tools used to conduct a threat assessment. While most of the professionals on the team will have a solid knowledge of suicide and violence indicators, a threat assessment views the warning signs of violence somewhat differently, and takes into consideration a number of additional variables and dynamics that have been associated with targeted violence. It is through the study of past incidents and attackers that we are now able to identify concerning behaviors and intervene before an incident occurs.

Threat assessment team training includes an in-depth look at violence risk factors, warning signs, threats, inhibitors, triggers, and the pathway to violence. Participants learn to distinguish between making a threat and posing a threat and between “howling” and “hunting” behavior. They learn that the troubling behavior and words of a concerning person are considered “leakage” of intent, and will commonly be seen and heard up to several years before an attack. They are indicators of a preoccupation with planning and preparation for violence.

A team approach to violence threat assessment is vital because it allows us to gather data from a number of sources and put it together like a puzzle. It is only after this has been done that we can feel confident in our assessment. School districts must have in place a reporting system and assessment team that follows up. Without this communication system in place, each potential red flag appears to be an isolated incident. As a result, we may not give the individual or potential threat the attention that is warranted. When we communicate, a picture begins to emerge that will cause us to either feel less concern, or more concern, about an individual and his/her movement toward violence. That picture will dictate our next steps and actions.

It is important that all other school staff members receive training in observable warning signs and the school’s specific process for communicating and investigating concerns. These staff members work with students every day and are in a position to notice and report red flags as soon as they see them.

Violence threat assessment is an ever-evolving practice. The model we use in schools is also the model used by the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI to assess threats. While no tool is 100% accurate or perfect, it is the best tool we have at this time. When schools put this practice into place, they can begin to breathe a little easier, knowing they are doing everything they can to prevent violence and harm to the school community.