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Teen from Tarrs who smoked synthetic marijuana dies

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By Richard Gazarik
Friday, Oct. 28, 2011
 

A Westmoreland County boy who underwent a double-lung transplant after synthetic marijuana smoked in a PEZ candy dispenser destroyed his lungs died Thursday in Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville.

Tonya Rice of Tarrs said her son, Brandon, 14, died at 8:21 a.m. -- exactly one month after the transplant -- from an infection that his compromised immune system could not stave off.

In the days since Brandon fell ill in June, she, her husband, Raymond; and their two other children maintained a constant vigil at his bedside.

"I never left him since June 14. Me and dad both," Tonya Rice said. "It was hard, very hard. He couldn't talk to us. We had to read his lips. A lot of times we couldn't understand what he was saying. He fought and fought and fought."

During that time, the Rice family has spoken out about the drug -- with brand names such as K2, Spice, Blaze, Ivory Wave, White Rush, Starry Nights and Vanilla Sky -- in hopes that other children will not be harmed.

A bill to ban the sale of synthetic marijuana in Pennsylvania was signed June 28 -- just weeks after the Southmoreland eighth-grader was placed on a respirator. More than 30 other states have banned the drug, and more are considering it.

Synthetic marijuana began appearing in Pennsylvania in 2008, according to officials from the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown.

The drug previously was sold as incense or herbal smoking blends in tobacco shops, gas stations and convenience stores.

A spokesman at the state Department of Health said the drug is so new that there are no statistics about the number of deaths resulting from its use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta also doesn't have nationwide statistics about deaths stemming from the drug.

Brandon, who marked his 14th birthday in the hospital Aug. 21, was described by his mother as a "smart and caring" boy who loved baseball and fishing.

Dr. J. Douglas Bricker, dean of Duquesne University's Mylan School of Pharmacy, said that although he doesn't underestimate the danger of the ingredients in the man-made designer drug, smoking synthetic marijuana in a plastic PEZ dispenser would have been a "significant factor" in Brandon's death.

"It's (the drug) fairly potent, but nothing in the literature has been shown to cause any lung toxicity," he said. But Bricker said plastic -- such as that found in the candy dispenser -- heated at high temperatures will release highly toxic cyanide gas and carbon monoxide.

The drug is sold on the Internet in 50- to 500-milligram packets for $25 to $75 each. The drug can cause seizures, vomiting, high blood pressure, heart problems and psychological problems such as paranoia, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

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