Addict takes center stage at Duluth chamber eventTony Gill knows firsthand the toll that designer drugs such as synthetic marijuana and bath salts can take.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Tony Gill knows firsthand the toll that designer drugs such as synthetic marijuana and bath salts can take.
His life revolved around the drugs until this summer, when he joined Teen Challenge Duluth, a residential treatment center for people recovering from addiction.
Gill, 21, of Hopkins, Minn., said he has abstained from the drugs since August, and only after quitting did he gain an appreciation for the grip they had.
“It was easy for me to deny I had a problem until I got sober. But now that I’m sober, I see that I was out of control,” he said.
On Tuesday, Gill will share his story at a public forum organized by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.
Gill said he began experimenting with marijuana and alcohol when he was about 13 and soon delved into harder drugs, including heroin. He went in and out of treatment programs but could not kick the cycle of addiction.
Gill said he was drawn to use synthetic marijuana and bath salts because they were cheap and easily available, and they didn’t show up in the urine analysis tests to which he was regularly subjected.
But the synthetic drugs had some unpleasant effects on Gill.
“It made me paranoid,” he said. “I’d have racing thoughts and a rapid heartbeat.”
Gill said he used the drugs consistently, consuming about 2 grams a day. “The more I used, the more the effects worsened,” he said. “I’d rather have people out there using street drugs than that stuff.”
Gill described bath salts as particularly addictive and debilitating. But weaning himself off the drug was a formidable challenge.
“I remember not being able to eat or sleep and feeling really dirty,” he said. “It was close to coming off of meth.”
Gill’s advice to people considering the drug is simple: “Don’t screw around with it.”
Dennis Bradshaw, dean of programs at Teen Challenge Duluth, said the synthetics can be harmful, especially when used in combination with other drugs.
“If you mix it with cocaine and other things, it can lead to extreme paranoia and even severe emotional breakdown,” he said.
Bradshaw also said the drugs can cause bodily harm, and he related the story of one user who suffered kidney failure.
“The truth is: We have no clue what these things do to people over time,” he said. “There’s no 20-year study on the health effects.”
The open sale of new synthetic drugs has proven a dangerous temptation, even to people who have successfully graduated the Teen Challenge program.
“The substances are ever-changing,” Bradshaw said, describing the challenges of the products’ quickly morphing chemistry. “For Teen Challenge, this stuff has been a nightmare.”