Derek Crum, 19, stood in front of a rapt audience Thursday evening as he shared his story of drug addiction.
“I just wanted parents to be able to see from my testimony how it develops,” Crum said.
Crum’s addiction started with marijuana, which then led to use of synthetic marijuana, bath salts and other hallucinogens.
“Marijuana is a gateway drug,” he said. “No one really believes that, but it definitely is.”
Crum’s story was the personal element of a program on marijuana and synthetic marijuana, presented by the Drug Free Coalition of Hall County.
The event also included professionals in a variety of fields to share the physical, emotional and legal implications of using either drug.
The main focus of the evening trended toward informing the audience about synthetic marijuana, which does not chemically resemble the marijuana plant, but can deliver a similar physical response. As some forms of synthetic marijuana are sold in stores, many people believe use of it is safe and legal.
However, the experts warned the chemical material in synthetic marijuana is not regulated, and can lead to long-term and even permanent neurological damage.
There have been two confirmed deaths in Georgia from synthetic marijuana use, according to Nelly Miles with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. State legislators are responding as quickly as they can to new chemical concoctions that come out in the market in response to updated laws.
“As of Aug. 15, we only have one (synthetic marijuana) compound that we have identified recently that is not covered (under the law),” Miles said. “Which is a huge leap from hundreds upon hundreds. It gives us some glimmer of hope.”
Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard informed the audience that possessing some types of synthetic marijuana, which is sold under a variety of names, is a felony offense.
“It’s really a hot cocktail of mess,” Woodard said.
It was information that was news to the audience, which mostly consisted of parents.
“I was really interested in synthetic marijuana because of how easy it is and how available it is,” said Dan Stephens. “Yet, to hear that it’s actually legal to buy and yet you can get a felony offense for owning something you can buy ... to me, it’s just amazing.”
Stephens, whose children are in their 20s, attended the event to “stay up with what’s going on.”
Shelley Davis creates a drug-free newsletter for employers to share with employees.
“I have had several employers ask me questions about synthetic marijuana,” she said about why she was attending the program.
Crum told the audience he stopped using synthetic marijuana when a friend became catatonic after use.
“That scared me,” he said. “That’s when I stopped.”
He remained on other drugs, but in February of this year he entered a rehabilitation program.
Now, he has been sober for more than six months. He remains in rehab, and has turned to a relationship with God to provide structure and support in his life.
“This isn’t the same young man,” said his father, Kip Crum. “There’s been a tremendous change in the last six months.
“I’m really, really proud of him.”