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Insanity and incarceration mark one Northeast Florida family's struggle with the drug known as K2

5:15 PM, Nov 20, 2012   |    comments
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Gage Dobish turned 19 this past July.

He wasn't always like this.

In audiotapes recorded by his family, Gage stalks around his Orange Park home, ranting incoherently.

"Is that nuts enough for you? I'll act nuts for you I'll act f---ing crazy. Why? It's a free country."

A little over a year ago, Gage was in ROTC, going to prom, living any ordinary teenager's life.

"How come SWAT's not here? How come cops aren't f---ing here? It's a free f---ing country."

Last month, he was in jail on a $100,000 bond for allegedly threatening to stab his mother in the heart.

Gage's mother, Doris Castro, admits the threats were frightening.

"Scary? Yes, [it was] very scary -- because I don't know what he's going to do. ... He did frighten me but he's my son and I don't think he would have hurt me."

Sister Colleen Guillory agrees.

"I was scared. I was scared -- I was freaking out."

Today, Gage is accused of a serious crime. But according to his sister and mom, Gage doesn't need to be in jail. He needs help.

"I tried to get help for him. My son's a victim because nobody wants to help him," says Doris Castro. "That's what he needs. He needs mental help."

When we first met with Gage Dobish's family in September, he wasn't yet accused of any crime. But his behavior had been increasingly erratic, and he' been involuntarily committed via the Baker Act.

According to his mom, Gage's trouble began when he started experimenting with a still-legal substance, known as K2 or Spice. Part of a new generation of drugs called synthetic cannabannoids, K2 and its knockoffs are designed to elude both drug tests and federal regulations.

For the past few years, manufacturers of K2-type drugs stayed one step ahead of the law, labeling it "herbal incense" or "potpourri," and placing warnings on packaging that it is "Not For Human Consumption."

At the same time, the drugs makers have altered its chemical makeup just slightly to dodge laws targeting specific illicit compounds.

The Florida Legislature passed a bill which took effect in July that's supposed to outlaw the sale of any "analogue" drugs -- those that chemically resemble already-illegal drugs. But as our investigation shows, it still remarkably common. 

In fact, you can still buy it at many local convenience stores, where it's usually kept behind the counter. The store owners we spoke to seemed clueless of the dangers.

Iyobe Degefaw, owner of a Jiffy store on the Westside, said he was "not aware of that," adding, "If it's dangerous I don't want to sell. I don't want to carry it."

Store Clerk Mita Sima has worked at a Cassat Avenue BP station for 5 years -- the same store where Gage bought his daily supply of K2. When we asked her if she was concerned about selling it, she said she doubted it would be legal if it was really dangerous.

"Well it's not bad bad."  

Dr. Nicholas Dodaro, emergency room physician at Baptist Medical Center, counters that K2 is actually quite bad.

"You have neurological risks, anywhere from strokes and bleeding in your head to cardiovascular risks heart attacks and arrhythmias, metabolic risks, they can become what we call acidotic, which can lead to a multitude of physiologic failures. Trauma. These patients sometimes walk or drive or fall or get run over. So the risks are numerous."

Dodaro has seen a surge in synthetic drug users coming to the ER. Many are in the midst of having psychotic breaks, and in need of restraint.

"They're not able to communicate. They can't answer questions maybe they're physically violent. Their activity is very exaggerated and violent at times ... You have to do initially some physical restraint and then some chemical restraint."

In fact, the limited science on these new drugs shows side effects that range from extreme anxiety, to vomiting, aggression and even psychosis.

And their use does appear to be increasing. In addition to what doctors report anecdotally, the First Coast has seen a 30 percent spike in Baker Act commitments, according to the Duval County Clerk's office.

In August, after habitually abusing K2 for nearly a year, Gage was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward. He was discharged just few days later.

"Now?" his mother asks. "He doesn't have much of a mind now."

What nobody really knows is what the long-term impacts are. For Gage, things only got worse after he was released.  

On Sept. 6, his driving prompted complete strangers to call police, as he raced down crowded Blanding Boulevard at 90 miles an hour. His family and friends called police twice, seeking to have him Baker Acted again.

"Helicopters everywhere, planes everywhere, I know everybody's f---ing watching me"

It wasn't until he appeared to threaten his mom, saying he could stab her in the heart and no one would know, that police took him into custody.

"End it your f---ing self."

Gage was charged with aggravated assault and domestic battery. And he spent 2 ½ months in solitary confinement.

As his mom describes it, Gage is now "literally like a zombie. He has no emotion and drools. I have dreams every night that they're going to find him dead in his cell."

For Gage's family, the experience has been nothing short of a nightmare. But they hope it's also a chance to warn others. Says his sister Colleen, "My brother had -- and still has -- the possibility to be a great person. It's really really sad story. It's a tragedy."

First Coast News

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