Sheriff: ‘Matter of time’ until ‘Darth Vapor’ OD death

"Darth Vapor," which has been linked to overdoses when used in e-cigarettes. (Courtesy the Mason County Sheriff's Office - May 19, 2015)

LUDINGTON, Mich. (WOOD) — Monday afternoon, the Mason County Sheriff’s Office was called to the Journey Junior/Senior High School just outside of Ludington for a medical situation.

“When they arrived, they found a 19-year-old student who was actively involved in a seizure,” Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole said.

That incident marked the fourth time authorities in Mason County responded to a similar situation.

“Initially, we thought maybe we were dealing with a nicotine-type overdose because it was an e-cigarette, but when we found out it didn’t contain tobacco. It doesn’t even qualify as illegal for those under the age of 18 because it not even a tobacco product,” Cole said.

All the incidents involved teens — three at area schools and one on a school bus.

“All of our cases that we have documented involve Darth Vapor and e-cigarettes where young people are ingesting this substance though the e-cigarettes and having violent reactions to those,” Cole said.

At first, the sheriff said investigators were not exactly sure what Darth Vapor was, so he sent a sample to the Michigan State Police Crime Lab. Cole said tests found “synthetic cannabis.”

“Which lacks the THC but still has similar effects, apparently,” Cole said. “That is obviously is a concern for us because these kids are ingesting these products and it’s really messing with them.”

Vapors are legal in Michigan and unregulated.

“Certainly is poses challenges because it takes the bite out of law enforcement being able to seize this product from kids,” Cole said.

In two of the cases, the teens had to be airlifted to Grand Rapids hospitals. Cole said during one of those trips, the teen stopped breathing several times.

“Sooner or later, if parents don’t get a grip on this and start dealing with their children, we will have a death,” Cole said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

The sheriff said it appears the teens were getting the Darth Vapor online and also though one local store. He said that shop has stopped selling the product after police talked to them about what was happening.

“This is shutting their bodies right down. They are convulsing, they are seizing, and they are not breathing. There has to be medical intervention immediately or I’m afraid someone will lose their life,” Cole said.

“Its important for parents to be parents,” he continued. “If you see an e-cigarette in your kid’s car, don’t assume it’s to help them kick a cigarette habit. They need to look at what substance they might be putting in that e-cigarette, what they are using that e-cigarette as a vessel for.”

The sheriff said they are looking into three other possible cases where teens showed similar symptoms and were brought directly to the hospital.

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