Six convenience stores in Elkhart County remain closed after a drug raid last month. The year-long investigation culminated with simultaneously executed search warrants targeting businesses selling synthetic drugs.
The strong message from law enforcement has many residents who live near these convenience stores breathing a sigh of relief. But, many are still dealing with drug addictions that developed thanks to easy access to packets of synthetic drugs at their neighborhood stores.
One Elkhart woman tells Newscenter 16 she smoked a joint of synthetic marijuana for the first time and immediately felt the effects. She couldn’t go more than six hours without getting another fix.
The drug made her so aggressive that she said she couldn’t drive down the road without feeling the urge to run people over.
An addiction specialist points out that synthetic marijuana should be looked at as “LSD times ten” when it comes to the negative effects.
The Elkhart woman is still reeling from her addiction and asked that we conceal her identity.
Her drug routine would begin the moment she woke up. She said she feels a lot of guilt about the two years she spent using synthetic drugs.
A trip down certain Elkhart streets takes her back in time to a dark place in her life. She would visit the Burger Dairy store on Franklin Street almost daily.
“You made eye contact with them and pulled out your money,” she said. “They knew what you wanted.”
The convenience store is now boarded up. It is one of the stores seized by Elkhart County Authorities after last month’s drug raid. But the effects of the drugs that were sold here cannot be as easily blocked off.
“That stuff brought out every bad aspect in me,” she said. “Mentally, I felt like I was crazy. I was so mean. “
The woman said she was so dependent on the drugs that she would drive down Franklin Street suffering from the symptoms of withdrawal – just to get one more packet.
“It was throwing up – driving around Elkhart trying to get it,” she said. “Throwing up out of your car. The stomach…the pain.”
She got to the point that she was spending $20 to $40 a day on synthetic drugs. She lost her home and her health was declining.
“I knew at that point I’m going to die,” she said. “I’m not going to keep losing things I acquire… I’m going to die. I got the help I needed.”
She turned to Oaklawn for guidance while going through withdrawal.
John Gallagher is an addiction specialist for Oaklawn. He said people come into the facility every week to recover from synthetic drug addiction. Some must even go to a detox program in order to cope with withdrawal symptoms.
“Symptoms include paranoia, hallucinations – auditory and visual,” Gallagher said. “Sometimes they will act out on these paranoid thoughts. There’s loss of appetite, sweating. “
The Elkhart woman felt many of these things first-hand.
“For the first two days, I couldn’t get out of bed,” she said. “All I did was throw up.”
The symptoms of synthetic drug withdrawal can be even more severe than those associated with what many consider “hardcore” drugs.
“Out of all drugs I’ve worked with, synthetic marijuana is most dangerous at producing this type of aggression this quickly,” Gallagher said. “Even folks using meth and cocaine based drugs… to reach this level of this type of aggression and paranoia is unlikely to happen after one use.”
It was the little, colorful packets of synthetic drugs that forced the Elkhart woman to leave her hometown.
“Half of Elkhart is walking around like zombies,” she said.
“This is simply a poison people are ingesting,” Gallagher said.