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WKYT Investigates | ‘Wasp dope’ becomes new addictive high in pandemic

A new study shows just how prevalent the drug is in eastern Kentucky.
Published: Dec. 3, 2020 at 2:46 PM EST
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LOUISA, Ky. (WKYT) - The drug epidemic continues to surge in Kentucky during the coronavirus pandemic.

Now experts are warning of a new drug causing concerns even as meth continues its comeback. And nowhere is that more clear than in the eastern part of the commonwealth, a new study shows.

On the banks of the Big Sandy River, you can see two states - and one problem that spans the entire area. It’s why Addiction Recovery Care is based in Lawrence County, in the heart of the Appalachian region hit so hard by addiction.

“The pain pill issue got better,” Matt Brown, ARC’s senior vice president of administration, said of the cycle of drug use. “But then the methamphetamine issue is now rampant.”

Brown and others at ARC know far too well the cost of addiction. They have lived it.

“We have 600 employees,” Brown said. “Half of our employees are people who are in recovery. One-third of the 600 are people like me and Theresa, who actually went through the program,” he said, referencing his co-worker beside him.

And they know how widespread is the desperation that drives that addiction.

“There was a point that I probably would’ve done just about anything you put in front of me,” said Theresa Lafeve, now an administrative specialist for ARC, “if you told me it was going to give me the effect that I wanted.”

It is that desperation, experts say, that often compels continued drug use, driving those in addiction to ingest the unthinkable. Example: “Wasp dope,” or “hot shots,” a new drug now causing concerns as meth continues its comeback in Kentucky communities.

Wasp dope is insecticide - wasp killer spray - that has been crystallized. It is often mixed with meth, or replaces it.

For dealers, it can pad profits. For users, it can be a cheaper fix to their chemical cravings. All it takes is a little bit of work (through a process that will not be explained here) to turn a six-dollar substance that can be found on a hardware store’s shelves into a drug-like rush.

Warnings of ‘wasping’ and the like have been around for a couple of years, with stories out of counties across Kentucky, West Virginia and other places.

But now a University of Kentucky researcher has co-led what is believed to be the first study documenting the use of wasp dope, showing just how prevalent it is in eastern Kentucky.

“We think this is a really important first step to better understanding the use in the community,” said Dr. April Young, a UK epidemiology professor and one of two principal investigators with the

Kentucky Communities and Researchers Engaging to Halt the Opioid Epidemic, or CARE2HOPE, project.

Researchers found the use of wasp dope too common in rural eastern Kentucky communities. Nearly one in six drug users surveyed had used it in the past six months, they found, which is close to the percentage of those who had used cocaine or crack. Almost a third of drug users who inject meth said they had used wasp dope in the past six months.

“Now that we know it’s not rare, we know that it could become a major public health issue.” Young said, “And we’re not sure of its long-term or short-term effects.”

The study found that rates of wasp dope use are also strongly associated with homelessness, lack of transportation and other risk factors.

“We found that people were reporting having used wasp dope when they were unable to afford methamphetamine, or when they had to switch dealers for methamphetamine,” Young said, “or when they became just too desperate and switched to wasp dope intentionally from methamphetamine.”

Experts say medical workers need to watch out for it and ask about its use when responding to emergencies.

Wasp dope has already been documented as causing delirium or hallucinations. But those unintended and unexpected effects are likely not the only ones. Researchers are hoping to do more studies to learn more about the effects of the drug.

At the very least, its use is a sign of the tight grip of addiction.

“It comes to a point where most of us just don’t care whether we live or die, we’re so hopeless and depressed,” Lafeve said.

That is why those at ARC and other treatment centers across the region say it is so important to show that there is hope, regardless of the drug.

“The different types of substances may change, but the disease remains the same,” Brown said. “We believe that when somebody understands that they were created on purpose and for a purpose, then clean and sober is just a byproduct of them getting that they were created for something more than addiction.”

Struggling with addiction or other crises during the pandemic?

Contact ARC at 888-493-3866. Explore stress and coping strategies. Find resources to help break the grip of addiction.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7/365 at 1-800-273-8255.

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