ABILENE, Texas - Seventeen-year-old Jacob Dosser is a normal kid from Merkel. He plays sports, likes video games and rides horses.
He did not seem like a kid who would start experimenting with synthetic marijuana.
"It made my breathing really hard when I first tried it and it felt like my chest was gonna cave in," Dosser said.
However, those uncomfortable side effects didn't stop him right away.
"He didn't care about anything but that," said his 15-year-old sister Angel Dosser. "I couldn't get it away from him and I tried."
After several months of use, Dosser was busted at school while under the influence. He didn't know what time of day it was, and a school nurse checkup revealed an extremely high pulse and blood pressure rate.
Now that he is off of the "legal," he wants other kids to think before trying the products.
"Sometimes I would be seeing stuff that I don't know if it's real or not," said Dosser. "All it does is just mess with your head. You can't really control anything you do pretty much and the things you think about you don't know where you're at sometimes and what you're doing."
Synthetic drugs. They're inexpensive, easy to get a hold of, and they're running rampant in Abilene and across the Big Country.
Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge said there were 47 incidents of people being hospitalized in Abilene after abusing the products in April 2013 alone.
"The reality is the persons who are abusing these products have no idea what they are ingesting," Standridge said. "They're incredibly dangerous."
So how are these dangerous products being sold in stores?
"It says on most of these packages 'not for human consumption,'" explained Standridge. "So it's marketed as an herbal potpourri, but let me ask this question: ‘Who would go in and pay $60 for a herbal potpourri? Nobody.'"
The products are nearly impossible to ban. The state of Texas has banned 166 different chemicals that could be found in them. As soon as they do, chemists change the structure so they no longer test positive for the illegal chemicals.
"We're trying to keep up with synthesized chemicals that are clearly dangerous – can cause death – and people are still ingesting them," Standridge said.
Abilene police are cracking down.
Last week, police issued a search warrant for one Abilene smoke shop, Xotica, after gathering enough evidence to suggest they had been carrying products containing illegal chemicals.
The fight isn't over though. Standridge said concrete evidence exists that the products are in high schools and presumably middle schools.
One APD officer said users can be easy to spot.
"They're walking around like zombies," officer Lance Vine said. "Totally out of it."
"Symptoms can include vomiting, nausea, incredible heart rate, it's almost like their heart is coming out of their body, paranoia, they can be violent," Standridge said.
"Sometimes they're agitated, they're very aggressive and they can be a threat to me or my staff," said emergency physician Wes Hamilton.
Hamilton said the number of cases of people landing in the E.R. after using the products has skyrocketed.
"Everyone thinks that these are things you can buy at local stores so it's good for you and it's really not. These things are synthetic and they're chemicals and so they're just as bad for you as any other drug you can get on the street," Hamilton said.
Youth Prevention Specialist Kristi Le said it is even easier to get these drugs.
"They didn't even card me. I walked in, I was eight months pregnant and they sold it to me no problem," said Le.
Kids aren't the only ones falling prey to the drugs; adults who have struggled with their side effects want teens to listen up.
Angela Platt ended up at Acadia after using synthetic marijuana for two years.
"It caused me to have rages. It caused me to go into a deep depression. I would pull my hair out. I would cut on myself. I thought I was losing my mind," Platt said.
Kent Prather injected bath salts. By the end of the day, he was paralyzed from the neck down. It took months of rehabilitation and a lot of work to get him moving again.
"I'd rather just take a revolver and put a bullet in it and play Russian Roulette," Prather said. "It'd be safer than using these drugs."
Everyone seems to agree. Synthetic drugs are causing problems and they don't belong here.
"It's in our schools, it's everywhere and it really breaks my heart," Platt said.
"It's an issue here in Abilene that we need to face as a community," Prather said.
"As a community, we've got to say no," said Standridge.
Jacob Dosser hopes the community does say no.
"I want to grow up and have kids where the drugs are off the scene," Dosser said.
Something else to remember: because these chemicals are so new, nobody knows the long-term damage they can do.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, there are several resources in Abilene.
The White Pages list more than a dozen substance abuse counselors. Click here for that list.
We also worked closely with the Prevention Resource Center while compiling this story.
The address is 104 Pine, Suite 4, Abilene, TX 79601. The phone number is (325) 673-3503.
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