DeKalb DA: 30 People Suffer Kidney Damage From Tainted “Spice”

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Alabama's new spice law went into effect Thursday, and authorities in DeKalb and Cherokee counties say this couldn't come soon enough.

District Attorney Michael O'Dell held a news conference Thursday morning to discuss what the drug has done in northeast Alabama.

He said in the past month, as many as 30 young people between the ages of 15 and 30 have been afflicted with kidney damage.

"The problem we have found is it appears that the spice that is used by these young people is laden with some poison or pesticide," O'Dell said.
 
"It's that chemical compound that's been added to the spice has caused the kidney damage requiring, in several instances we're aware of, dialysis."
 
O'Dell said one young man may require dialysis for the rest of his life as a result of the damage.
 
"There are a lot of folks out there that took for granted that it's legal and harmless, and we need them to get the message that it's not," he said.

"It's no longer legal and it's certainly not harmless.  Now with the addition of the pesticide or poison-laden spice, it potentially could be deadly."

Investigators believe the pesticides may include a common household spray used to kill roaches, which the spice users unknowingly ingested.

"We don't know if the individual or individuals who put this product out there knew the potential ramifications or not," O'Dell said.

"If it's being put out there with the intent to harm, of course that would magnify the potential charges for an individual for that," he said.

A new law makes it a felony to possess chemicals used to make a synthetic marijuana-type product.

Assistant District Attorney Wes Mobley said only a couple of particular chemicals were previously considered controlled substances.

"It only made the punishment for those type of situations sometimes a misdemeanor," Mobley said.

"It was sometime very confusing, not only for law enforcement, but for district attorney's offices."

O'Dell said in addition to the felony chemical possession charges, he will pursue assault charges in this case, and if necessary, seek attempted murder warrants.

The first report of a young adult with kidney failure was about three weeks ago.

"We didn't think much about it," O'Dell said.
 
"Parents were concerned about the situation but they didn't have any idea about their child's use of the substance.  As they started to multiply, that's when we began to get calls."

O'Dell said whoever is making the spice is trying to juice it up and make it more powerful.

His office is now working with authorities in Cherokee, Etowah, Jackson, and Marshall counties to try to identify anyone who has gotten sick from using the illegal substance.

"If you are a victim or if you have a child who has been the victim of some recent kidney problems that the doctor has not diagnosed as being genetic or some medical reason for the initiation of that problem, we would ask that you contact [investigators]", O'Dell said.

"It's vital that we get the information as rapidly as possible to minimize any further involvement by our youth in this community."

Investigators hope to soon identify what substances were used, where they were purchased, and from whom.

DeKalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris said his investigators have some good leads.

"We've been working this, we have got several different samples that we have got," Harris said.  "We know who you are and we're coming."

If you have information, contact one of the following agencies:

  • DeKalb County District Attorney's Office - (256) 845-8550
  • DeKalb County Sheriff's Office - (256) 845-3801
  • Cherokee County Sheriff's Office - (256) 927-6435
  • Fort Payne Police Department - (256) 845-1414

Meanwhile, doctors in Huntsville Hospital's Emergency Room are warning parents of the long term side effects of spice.

"The problem is that you never know what is really in the stuff, and that can prove life-altering if you take this drug," Dr. Juan Carlos Abanses told WHNT News 19.