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N-bomb: Deadly substance on streets

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A drug becoming popular among teens and college students is cheap — costing as little as a dollar or two a hit — but also has proved to be deadly.

The drug, called 25I-NBOMe, or N-bomb, is not well-known to police. In fact, the first time investigators in both Johnson County and Indianapolis had heard of N-bomb was when testing showed it was the substance found next to the body of a Center Grove teen last weekend.

Investigators are still waiting for toxicology tests but suspect 16-year-old Samuel Xavier Motsay took the drug the morning of his death. N-bomb also has been linked to at least one other death in central Indiana, police said.

Doctors and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration have gotten to know the drug as well as its harmful side effects, including seizures, high fevers and death, in the past decade or so.

Between March 2012 and August 2013, at least 19 deaths were reported nationally after people had taken the drug, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

N-bomb, or 25I-NBOMe, comes in powdered form and typically chemists make it and ship it from overseas, particularly from China, said Dennis Wichern, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Indianapolis office. A man arrested on charges of dealing the drug told police he bought the drug online from India or Pakistan, Capt. David Allender with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said.

The federal government has been learning about the drug over the past several years and have found that the primary users of N-bomb are teens and college students, Wichern said. Users dissolve the powdered drug on their tongues or drink it in a liquid, and try the drug because it causes hallucinations and euphoria, similar to LSD, he said.

The drug is also a stimulant, which can give energy or cause a person to be agitated and unable to calm down, said Dr. Blake Froberg, pediatric medical toxicologist with Riley Hospital for Children.

N-bomb appeals to teens and college students because they’re willing to try new drugs and take risks. The drug is also inexpensive, and young people buy it thinking it is LSD or will be like LSD.

But most other drugs, including LSD, aren’t as associated with the deaths of so many first-time users, said Brent Furbee, medical director at the Indiana Poison Center.

How addictive the drug is and how accessible it is to users aren’t clear yet, Wichern said. It has been found across the country but isn’t widespread, he said. In Indiana, he’s heard of two instances where the drug was used and a person died, but it’s known to have killed teens in other states, he said.

“The evidence supports that it’s highly deadly because of the way it’s affecting a lot of these first-time users,” he said. “It’s still relatively new. We’re still learning about it ourselves.”

Small quantities of the drug, especially when inhaled, can cause users’ bodies to overheat, causing the kidneys, heart and brain to fail, said Furbee, who is also a doctor at IU Health. His office began seeing patients who had used the drug about a year ago, and since then has treated a total of four or five people. None have died, and they’ve been treated for the symptoms N-bomb causes, such as high body temperatures and seizures, he said.

At least 19 deaths nationally have been connected to the drug, according to data from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“They’re all dangerous, but this one seems to have really left a path of tragedies behind it,” Wichern said.

Local police officers, though, aren’t as familiar with N-bomb. A Drug Enforcement Administration officer and the Indianapolis police department didn’t know what the N-bomb drug was prior to lab testing of the powder found in the home of a man charged with selling the drug Motsay had, Allender said.

The police department had never seen the drug before and hadn’t known to have undercover officers try to buy it, he said.

“Anecdotally, all I really know is that we’ve never heard of it,” he said.

Troubling trend

  • What: A hallucinogenic drug called 25I-NBOMe, or N-bomb
  • How it’s used: The powder is either dissolved on the tongue or dissolved in liquid to drink
  • What it does: The drug causes users to hallucinate and can give them energy
  • Dangers: The drug can cause the body to overheat, resulting in organ failure leading to death. It also can cause seizures, high blood pressure, dilated pupils and agitation
  • More problems: The drug is sold illegally, and users never know what dosage they’re buying
  • Where it comes from: Overseas, typically from China

Sources: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Indiana University Health

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