Two people were arrested this week – and two others were hospitalized in need of emergency medical care – after an illegal “designer drug” surfaced in the Moab area.
An unidentified juvenile male was booked for third-degree felony distribution of a schedule IV synthetic narcotic, along with evidence tampering and two counts of reckless endangerment. Moab resident Marlee Ann Swink, 39, was also booked for third-degree felony obstruction of justice and possession or use of drug paraphernalia.
As of Tuesday, March 28, prosecutors had not yet formally charged Swink with any crimes, and additional information about the juvenile was unavailable. Under the law, they are presumed to be innocent unless or until a court convicts them of any charges.
The Grand County Sheriff’s Office received word on Sunday, March 26, that two unidentified men were admitted to the hospital for emergency care after they ingested an unknown substance. Authorities subsequently obtained a warrant to search a residence that investigators believe was associated with the possession and distribution of the drug.
Investigators later identified that substance as a combination of at least two benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” a class of psychoactive prescription drugs that are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety or insomnia. The identified drugs include alprazolam, which is sold under the registered trade name of Xanax, and clonazolam, according to Grand County Sheriff’s Lt. Kim Neal.
Authorities say the drug, which does not have a known nickname, was being distributed to buyers in a powdery form.
“It’s been described to us as having a yellow tint to it, with a little coarser texture than cocaine,” Neal told the Moab Sun News.
Taken by themselves, or in combination with other drugs, psychoactive medications can cause sedation and create feelings of euphoria. But they often come with side effects that can harm users, particularly when the drugs are misused.
Benzodiazepines act as muscle relaxants, and Neal said they can also cause lethargy, a loss of consciousness and breathing difficulties.
“These two gentlemen experienced those symptoms,” he said.
Due to federal health information privacy laws, Neal said he cannot release more information about the two men or the current state of their health.
“They were transferred to other hospitals out of the area,” he said. “That’s about as much as I can say.”
To his knowledge, no one else has been admitted to local medical facilities for treatment of similar side effects.
“These two guys that wound up seeking medical attention are the only two that I’m aware of in relation to this substance,” Neal said.
Moab Regional Hospital Director of Community Relations Sarah Shea said the hospital has no comments at this point on the two cases.
“The bottom line is that we are letting the sheriff’s office take the lead on this, and we are serving as medical support,” Shea said.
Because the hospitalization of the two men appears to be an isolated incident, Shea said the hospital cannot offer advice about the signs and symptoms that users might exhibit.
“It’s really hard to determine one thing over another that people should look out for,” she said.
However, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office is warning anybody who has been in contact with the drug, or has used the drug, to seek medical help as soon as possible. Needless to say, Neal also encourages people not to ingest unfamiliar substances.
“If you don’t know what it is, definitely don’t take it,” he said.
The issue of prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in the U.S. Federal regulators say that prescription drugs are misused and abused more often than any other drug, with the exception of marijuana and alcohol.
Misconceptions about the safety of prescription drugs, and their increasing availability, have fueled the rise in such abuse.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has estimated that 21.5 million Americans have used prescription tranquilizers for nonmedical purposes at least once. Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicate that about 15 million people over the age of 12 used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons each year, while 6.5 million Americans do so on average per month.
In this instance, if Moab Regional Hospital officials learn anything new about any related matters, Shea said they will work with the sheriff’s office to get that information out to the public.
“We’re watching it very closely,” Shea said.
Anyone who may be in possession of the drug in this case is encouraged to dispose of it anonymously by dropping it off at the emergency room on the north side of the hospital’s campus.
“They should be bringing that to the emergency room at the hospital, and not the front desk,” Shea said.
As for the allegations against Swink and the juvenile, Neal said the case remains under investigation.
“There’s still a lot to be done and a lot of things to be answered,” he said.
“Designer drug” believed to be a combination of at least two prescription meds
If you don’t know what it is, definitely don’t take it.