Concerns about 'spice' reach into Harford courts, jail

Inmates at the Harford County Detention Center can be tested for synthetic marijuana and similar drugs, which have come to the fore in Harford County in recent weeks, although it is not clear how precisely.

During an Aug. 9 bail review hearing for a 24-year-old man accused of violating a protective order and of theft, and who has an admitted substance abuse problem, District Court Judge Mimi Cooper asked if there was a test for "spice" being used at the detention center. Someone responded in the affirmative over the closed circuit TV feed from the jail.

Although Corey Alan Duvall, of Pylesville, told Cooper he had been clean for six months, prosecutors said Duvall's father, who had taken out the protective order his son was accused of violating, was fearful the younger Duvall was suicidal. Cooper ordered that Duvall continue to be held without bail and, as of Tuesday, he was still at the detention center.

"Spice" has become a widely used name to describe synthetic drugs that are sold legally, in many cases, and are smoked to simulate a marijuana high. Police and public health officials say the drugs present a danger to those who use them and to others because the users' behavior can become unpredictable and, often, aggressive.

Drug testing of inmates is standard practice at the detention center, according to a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, which runs the facility.

But a specific test for "spice" or other synthetics is not as cut and dried as Judge Cooper may have been led to believe.

"There is no test for 'spice' that they are aware of," explained Sheriff's Office spokesman Edward Hopkins after consulting with the sheriff's command staff.

"As necessary they can order a full [test] 'panel' of synthetic drugs and opiates," Hopkins wrote in an e-mail, "but there is no single test for 'spice' because the chemical compounds change so frequently."

Hopkins said detention center inmates who participate in work release are tested routinely for drugs and alcohol.

"Weekenders," people sentenced to serve weekends at the jail, "are tested upon initial weekend commitment and if the inmate is suspected of being under the influence of some intoxicant," Hopkins said.

"Any inmate can be tested if we receive information that they using or smuggling drugs, or if we detect/suspect usage," he added.

Eight days after the District Court bail review for Duvall, a 19-year-old from Bel Air was shot to death by a Harford County Sheriff's deputy after the teenager went on a rampage at several Rock Spring businesses which prompted his father to say he believes his son was under the influence of "bad drugs."

The Sheriff's Office has not commented on whether investigators believe Seth Beckman, who was killed by the deputy during a suspected break-in, was under the influence of drugs, synthetic or otherwise, although his father said the son was being treated for depression with a monthly injectable drug. Toxicology and autopsy reports have not yet been submitted by the Office of the State Medical Examiner that performed the post-mortem on Mr. Beckman.

But the Sheriff's Office has expressed increased concern about the availability of "spice" and the ability of those who sell it to get around the law.

In early August, the Sheriff's Office has acknowledged, it raided a property near Forest Hill in response to a report of a possible illegal firearms transaction. Deputies found a full-fledged synthetic drug manufacturing operation on the property, a Sheriff's Office spokesman said.

The materials and finished product were confiscated pending an investigation that has not been completed as of this week. No arrests were made pending the outcome of the investigation.

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