COLORADO SPRINGS - A lawsuit has been filed over the death of Colorado 19-year-old Nicholas A. Colbert against a retail store for selling him synthetic marijuana - or "Spice."
Nicholas died after using Spice that he had purchased from a Kwik Stop convenience store in Colorado Springs in September 2011. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Nicholas' mother.
"The suit is an effort to stop convenience stores, gas stations, and other retail outlets from selling deadly Spice and other synthetic drugs, which contain harmful, and often illegal, chemicals," the law firm states.
The convenience store, located in the 1100 block of South Chelton Road, sold the "Spice" in a bottle labeled "Mr. Smiley," which contained chemicals that had been banned and were illegal in Colorado.
The law firm alleges the bottle did not warn of the dangerous chemicals or the danger of ingesting the drug.
"Nicholas Colbert's life was ended by a dangerous drug sold over the counter at a convenience store, and we want to stop this from occurring again," said Woodruff, who specializes in medical malpractice and other complex personal injury cases. "With this lawsuit, Nick Colbert's mother is mounting a courageous battle to prevent this type of disaster from happening to other children in Colorado and across the nation. And the first step is to stop retail stores from profiting from selling these dangerous drugs to kids."
With psychoactive effects similar to those found in substances obtained for illegal drug use, this "fake marijuana" is being marketed and packaged with innocuous names and bright graphics to give the misleading impression that its use is harmless, Woodruff added.
According to a University of Michigan study, the use of synthetic or fake marijuana has reached crisis proportions in the United States, as one of nine high school seniors has used it. In 2010, there were reports of more than 11,000 emergency room visits nationwide caused by the use of synthetic marijuana.
Recently, an investigation was launched after hospitals in the metro area saw an influx of synthetic marijuana related illness and three possible deaths.
"Initial reports show approximately 75 people who reported smoking a form of synthetic marijuana may have been seen at hospitals in the Denver metro area and Colorado Springs beginning in late August. Several individuals were in intensive care and three deaths are being investigated as possibly associated," Dr. Tista Ghosh, interim chief medical officer for the state, said.
Ghosh has a strong warning for users of the drug.
"Don't wait for the results of this investigation. If you have synthetic marijuana, stop using it and destroy it," said Dr. Ghosh.
Synthetic marijuana products are illegal, but the makers are finding creative ways to skirt the laws.
"What the smart street chemists are doing is that they're changing the chemical structure of the molecule to try to put it in a category that's outside of the class of drugs that's illegal, so by changing the structure they're making it a 'legal substance,'" said Dr. Christopher Hoyte, assistant professor, department of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado Hospital.
Because the composition of the drug is always changing, doctors are not sure what's causing the bad reactions.
"Either it's a new cannabinoid that hasn't been discovered yet or it might be a contaminate in the batch that people are using," Hoyte said.
On Sept. 6, Samuel Alvarado says his son, Samuel Alvarado Jr., was rushed to the hospital after smoking synthetic marijuana. Alvarado says the night of Sept. 5 and into the next morning, his son was hallucinating and feeling weak.
"He didn't have strength. His body was just like all loose. He couldn't sit. He couldn't stand. He couldn't talk. He couldn't even keep his eyes open, couldn't stand up. He had to hold onto the wall," Alvarado said.
The decision to take the 26-year-old to the hospital came after his father says he thought he might die.
Alvarado says his son purchased the substance from a store in the metro area. His son was released from Denver Health Friday evening.
State and local health officials will be working with local hospitals to complete chart reviews of patients who were sickened by the synthetic marijuana.
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