Teen from Tarrs who smoked synthetic marijuana dies
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.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Latrobe infant found in filth, police say
- East Deer man chastised by Westmoreland judge, paroled, released
- Greensburg mayor race features write-in hopeful vs. businessman
- Officials criticize West Newton code enforcement officer
- Fickle weather gives pumpkin growers in Pennsylvania fits
- Fire damages home in Greensburg
- Hempfield woman bounces back from serious car crash
- Man pleads guilty to assaulting girl, 14, in Westmoreland
- Westmoreland subsidy that helps finance Spirit Airlines draws scrutiny
- Unity day care operator loses appeal of sentence
- Monessen man gets long prison term, then gets married