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Rise in Use of Hallucinogenic Drugs Spurs Authorities, UCSB to Warn of Risks and Ready Response

After 2 Isla Vista incidents involving students, officials look to inform campus community and the public about dangers of trending drugs

Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies have been dealing with an alarming rise in the use of powerful hallucinogens. The drugs are linked to two Isla Vista incidents involving UC Santa Barbara students. One student suffered serious injuries after diving off the bluffs to the beach below and the other ingested a fateful combination that resulted in his death. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies have been dealing with an alarming rise in the use of powerful hallucinogens. The drugs are linked to two Isla Vista incidents involving UC Santa Barbara students. One student suffered serious injuries after diving off the bluffs to the beach below and the other ingested a fateful combination that resulted in his death.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk file photo)

After taking LSD for the first time, a 20-year-old UC Santa Barbara student walked toward the cliffs along the 6800 block of Del Playa Drive in Isla Vista, a little too close to the edge for his friend, who had been eyeing his strange behavior and following him.

She struggled to pull him away, but the man broke free and jumped with his arms straight out, as if he were flying.

He landed on his chest and head on the beach below, which is where Isla Vista Foot Patrol deputies found him a short time later. He was bleeding from the mouth but conscious and breathing, trying to stand up, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover.

The Nov. 11 incident was the second time in a month that authorities tried to restrain and help a UCSB student who had injured himself after using hallucinogenic drugs.

The trend was scary enough to prompt Dr. Mary Ferris​, UCSB’s student health director, to issue a campus-wide health alert the next day.

The alert warned of the apparent uptick in hallucinogen drug use and in emergency calls responding to those using specific synthetic hallucinogens reported in the community.

Narcotics detectives are seeing an increase in certain types of hallucinogens most popular among college-aged students but used in other areas of the county as well, Hoover said.

That increase, although not dramatic, is happening around the nation, too, she said.

The Sheriff’s Department first cautioned the community about the trend in mid-November, when the Coroner’s Office announced its findings in the Oct. 11 death of another UCSB student.

In that case, emergency personnel responded at 4:30 a.m. to the 6700 block of Abrego Road, where they found Andres “Andy” Sanchez bleeding profusely and running around in the street screaming for help.

Sanchez, a 19-year-old pre-biology major from Poway, eventually was subdued and rushed to the hospital, where he died.

The coroner determined his death was “accidental,” caused by “acute hallucinogenic polysubstance intoxication,” with an additional significant cause being sharp force trauma of the upper extremity.

Toxicology tests revealed Sanchez was under the influence of 25I-NBOMe and ketamine, both strong hallucinogens, and marijuana. The trauma refers to a deep cut Sanchez suffered on his right forearm, which led to major blood loss after he apparently ​slammed his arm through a plate-glass window.

25I-NBOMe, commonly called “N-Bomb,” is a powerful hallucinogen that can be ingested in liquid form, blotter paper or as powder, according to the county Department of Alcohol Drug and Mental Health Services.

The drug — known to cause seizures, aggression, self-harm, distortions in space and time, psychosis-like symptoms, abnormally rapid heart rate and increased body temperature — made Ferris’ list of trending hallucinogens.

It’s been around for more than 12 years, but recreational abuse rates have increased dramatically in the last few years, resulting in a number of overdoses as well as deaths, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

Ketamine, meanwhile, is an anesthetic with hallucinogenic properties commonly called “K” or “Vitamin K.” Health officials say its use has become much more prevalent as part of a “rave” dancing culture.

In her message to the UCSB community, Ferris also mentions “Flakka” and “bath salts” as common LSD substitutes that, when combined with other substances, can be significantly more powerful and unpredictable than other hallucinogens.

She noted that extremely small amounts of these drugs can cause seizures, heart attacks, arrested breathing and death, especially when mixed with alcohol and other drugs.

“As new drugs become available, they inevitably appear in our community, so the types are always changing,” Ferris told Noozhawk last week. “Recently, the severe effects of new types were so serious that we needed to issue a campus-wide alert, even though we believe it is only a small number of students who might consider using them.

“We will continue to strongly encourage our students to be educated about the serious risks involved in hallucinogenic drug use, and to learn how to socialize without putting themselves in danger. We encourage a culture of caring, with students watching out for each other and contributing to a safer community, both on campus and in Isla Vista.”

UCSB is “heavily promoting” more student awareness of the dangers of hallucinogenic drug use, she added.

The school’s Alcohol and Drug Program has licensed therapists who educate and provide confidential individual counseling for those who want to stop themselves or friends from using drugs.

The UCSB program also sponsors a “Just Call 9-1-1” campaign and a “Life of the Party” student organization so fellow students can tell others to call 9-1-1 at any sign of an overdose.

ADMHS maintains a 24/7-access telephone line at 1.888.868.1649 for anyone seeking help with drug and alcohol addiction needs, as well as mental health services.

Locals are also encouraged to call the sheriff’s Narcotics Investigation Unit at 805.681.4175 to report any information related to illegal drug sales.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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