Synthetic drugs: Long term effects unknown - CBS46 News

Synthetic drugs: Long term effects unknown

Posted: Updated:
(Photo: WGCL) (Photo: WGCL)
ATLANTA (CBS46) -

One hit changed everything for Randall Brannen. The autopsy report listed a synthetic drug called 25-I, known on the streets as Solaris.

It was a drug his sister, Rose Cook, had never heard of.

"I was thinking alcohol, I was thinking crack, I was thinking any other drug in the world," she said. "I Googled it...this was 2013 when this happened .There was no information out there about it."

Since 2011, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation reported 17 deaths from synthetic drugs.

What's alarming to the Drug Enforcement Administration and doctors like neuroscience professor Dr. Keith Easterling of Emory University, is that no one really knows what's in these drugs.

And they are so new, the long term effects on the brain haven't even been studied yet.

"I'd like to be able to tell someone, even be able to tell the users stay away from this one, this one's really toxic here's what to look for on the package. I can't even say that," said Easterling. 

Randall's mother Diane Brannen said his friends were too scared to call 911 when his body went into seizures for two hours. 

They were all high on the same drug - Solaris - only Randall's reaction killed him.

"I came home from church later on that morning and they had dumped his body in our front lawn," Diane Brannen said.  

Unlike cocaine and marijuana, which are created from plants, synthetic drugs are man-made, consisting of a range of ever-changing chemicals meant to mimic the effects of speed or cocaine.

Smoked, snorted, or injected, these drugs create an unpredictable and different reaction in each person who uses them.

"You get changes in the areas that control movement and that control memory. Over time, you see shrinkage in those areas. You can also see damage that may be a precursor to Parkinson's," said Easterling, who studies the effects of club drugs.

And he said there's no safe dosage.

"People are less likely to overdose on methamphetamine because they're experienced with it. A lot of people that use it know how much to take and the others are unknowns," said Easterling. "And I think they're more likely to overdose and have these bizarre behavioral things and land at the Poison Control Center, land in the ER."

Last year, the GBI tested more than 1,300 cases of the drugs.  So far this year, it's tested more than 1,000 cases.

Daniel Salter, DEA special agent Atlanta Field Division, said his department has been cracking down on smoke shops and warehouses where synthetics are manufactured and sold to kids as young as 12 years old.

"Listen, we're never looking for Billy and his bong in the basement, that's not what we do. We're looking for the people who are impacting our communities," he said. 

Brannen and Cook said kids need to be alerted much earlier to the dangers. Two years ago they joined forces with other families to get the state's medical amnesty law passed. It provides immunity to people who call 911 after drug overdoses. 

"I decided that we needed to turn that into making it our focus, to make sure this doesn't happen to other families and that other families don't have to have a Thanksgiving with an empty seat at the table," Cook said. 

Copyright 2016 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved. 

Connect with CBS46