A simple $400 online order contained all of the lethal ingredients to bring about 17-year-old Alex Snyder’s tragic death this week.
Snyder, a Chanhassen High School senior from Victoria, used his credit card to buy a synthetic drug online and have it shipped from China to Minnesota.
On Sunday night, Carver County sheriff’s deputies found him lying faceup in a cattail marsh in Lake Minnewashta Regional Park, in the midst of a seizure after having ingested a synthetic drug. His death Tuesday in a Minneapolis hospital sent shock waves through his school community, which has suffered other losses to drug overdoses.
In the past couple of years, Minnesota law enforcement officials and legislators have partnered to end the sale of synthetic drugs in retail stores. But overdoses and deaths caused by the continued online traffic in synthetic drugs have them struggling to identify their next step.
Minnesota teens are increasingly ordering drugs from China and Europe and having them delivered to their doorsteps. It’s eerily easy — they don’t need to surf the so-called “deep web” or use online currency like bitcoin to get drugs — a PayPal account or credit card will do, Carol Falkowski, CEO of Drug Abuse Dialogues, said Thursday.
“Anyone who has Internet access can order these substances,” she said. “There is no quality control. There is no truth in labeling. There is no standard dosage amount.”
Snyder bought dipropyltryptamine, a psychedelic drug commonly called DPT online. The drug is rarer than other synthetic drugs, such as synthetic marijuana, found in Minnesota.
David Ferguson, University of Minnesota professor of medicinal chemistry, said that when he set out to research the drug, it took him less than 20 seconds to find a website selling it.
The number of synthetic-drug overdoses reported in Minnesota reflects a growing problem. So far this year, 184 overdoses have been reported, up from 173 overdoses in all of 2014. And it is likely that those numbers are vastly underreported, said Jon Cole, the Minnesota Poison Control System’s medical director.
An enduring danger
The lethal appeal of synthetic drugs to Minnesota teens has been on the radar of police, legislators and educators for some time.
In January 2014, Tara Fitzgerald, a 17-year-old student at Woodbury High School, died after ingesting a synthetic drug known as 25i-NBOMe. She had been told it was LSD. Her case resulted in high-profile charges against other young people who provided her with the drugs. Evidence linking the defendants included thousands of text messages, and then as now authorities publicly lamented the way social media was used to feed the youth drug culture.
Despite the resulting publicity, pleas and warnings, the problem endures.
Officers are still finding the drug that killed her in the community and in the schools, Sgt. Mike Benson, commander of the Washington County drug task force, said Thursday.
“We are seeing a big trend in Washington County with 25i-NBOMe,” he said.
Also in 2014, Minnesota passed a new law that broadened the definition of synthetic drugs and empowered the state Board of Pharmacy to go after businesses that sell drugs containing banned substances. The law followed a controversy around a Duluth head shop, the Last Place on Earth, that sold such substances. In 2013, a judge convicted the owner of more than 50 federal charges.
“It’s a constant evolution of different chemicals and different names to be added, that was kind of the idea behind expanding the legislation,” said Rep. Erik Simonson, who helped sponsor the synthetic-drug bill, along with Sen. Roger Reinert. Both are DFL legislators from Duluth.
Synthetic-drug sales online have made it difficult for both state and federal governments to take action, said Cody C. Wiberg, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy.
“We were attempting to make sure at the minimum, these drugs that are killing people would at least not be sold at retail locations in Minnesota,” Wiberg said.
Wiberg said one potential next step might be working with U.S. Postal Service inspectors to stop the drugs from traveling.
Another family grieves
The grief being felt by Snyder’s loved ones echoes that of other Carver County families before them.
Last year, Davis Colley, 16, of Norwood Young America, drowned. His death was classified as an accident, but synthetic marijuana was later listed as a contributing condition, according to the Carver County Sherriff’s Office.
The Chanhassen High School senior class of 2016 now has lost three students to drug-related deaths. In 2013, Dylan Turcotte, 15, of Chanhassen, died of a heroin overdose. This past April, 17-year-old Macalob Bartram died in his Chanhassen bedroom, also of heroin toxicity.
On Thursday, Snyder’s classmates shared their grief and frustration in person and on social media. They implored each other to make sure Snyder’s overdose is the last one to ravage their ranks.
Alex’s father, Jeremy Snyder, urged parents to keep a closer eye on their children’s online activities.
“They are not invulnerable,” he said Thursday. “It can still happen to you.”