John Sdao’s son, Anthony, was in the prime of his life.
The 20-year-old was taking college classes, working, and making big plans for the future.
“He was up for a promotion at work within a few weeks. He was very excited about that. He was excited about his grade-point average at Kaplan. He had a lot going for him,” Sdao said. “He just purchased a new truck, he was excited about that. He had a lot of good things going for him.”
But Anthony also had a secret. He was experimenting with the drug “spice,” also known as K2 and synthetic marijuana.
The products are made of plant matter sprayed with chemicals designed to mimic the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the high-inducing compound found in marijuana. However, the chemicals are unregulated and often produce negative side effects like elevated heart rate, seizures, and paranoia.
“It [spice] just won’t make you think rationally. Any little problem you might have will energize a 100 times more,” Sdao said. “So, it just makes it very difficult to be on this drug and try to be 100 percent positive in all your thoughts.”
Sdao said his son was under the assumption that the drug was safe because he could go into a gas station and buy it. At first, Sdao said he didn’t notice any dramatic changes in Anthony.
“His girlfriend, his friends said they could tell when he was on it because he got very depressed. He was an uppity kid, he was always smiling. You could just tell he wasn’t himself on this stuff,” Sdao said.
On April 10, 2012, Anthony took his own life.
“He went into this gas station, bought this stuff, came home, smoked this stuff, and he didn’t have a chance,” Sdao said. “My son was a good kid. He was a happy, good kid. I lost a great friend. Our family suffers from this loss. It’s a big loss. I don’t want any other family to go through what we have to go though.”
The gas station in Royal Oak where Anthony bought the drug and the drug’s manufacturer were both named in a lawsuit filed by the family.
“They have responsibilities, merchants do, to not put products on the shelves that are dangerous,” said attorney Jim Rasor. “As we investigated this case, we found out they had been warned by community groups, ‘Take this off your shelves. Kids are dying from it.’”
Before some local ordinances were on the books banning K2, Rasor said stores were simply going after profit.
“You’re going to make a choice to make money over the life of that man’s son,” he said. “That’s morally wrong and it’s legally wrong.”
But the jury ultimately sided with the defendants in the case. At the time of Anthony’s death, K2 was legal to sell. Gov. Rick Snyder signed bills banning it in June 2012.
While jurors on the case acknowledged the drug was being sold and distributed, it was difficult to prove the drug itself caused Anthony to end his life. His family hopes to appeal the decision.
In the meantime, they’re making the public appeal to encourage all parents to talk to their children about the dangers of the drug.
“It’s a big danger. It’s a humongous danger. It’s a danger to our children,”Sdao said. “This could happen to anybody’s child.”
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Fighting the K2 epidemic