18 year old Christian Bjerk, the middle son of Keith and Debbie Bjerk, was a popular high school football player. He was looking forward to attending North Dakota State College of Science in the fall of 2012 and playing on the football team.
On the morning of June 11, 2012, Christian was found dead lying face down on the sidewalk not far from his Grand Forks, North Dakota home. The police officer who broke the news to Christian’s father was also Christian’s youth football coach. Christian’s father said, “He teared up and I didn’t know what was going on and he said it’s Christian, he’s deceased.”
The night before, Christian had gone to buy gas, ran into some teens he knew and went to a house party. Not far from Christian’s body, the police found two disoriented teenagers; one naked on a bench and the other screaming at a parked car. It was obvious that drugs were involved.
Mike Jennings, the detective on call that night, a search of the house where the party was held turned up a white powder but police were unable to identify it.
That same week, Elijah Stai and foster brother Justin Rippentrop came to Grand Forks from Park Rapids, Minnesota to celebrate Stai’s upcoming 18th birthday and visit his cousin. Stai and Rippentrop were hanging out with their cousin’s boyfriend, Adam Budge, who offered them a bag of chocolate he cooked with a white powder. After eating the chocolate the teens began to experience hallucinations
“The trees looked like cauliflowers like dancing around,” Justin recalled, “The sidewalks were swooping up and down like a roller coaster and the grass was shooting up to the sky.”
Stai on the other hand had a violent reaction to the drug. He ended up convulsing uncontrollably, foaming at the mouth and hitting his head. Stai was rushed to Grand Forks Altru Hospital, where he was treated. However, Stai was suffering from multiple organ failure, had gone into cardiac arrest and ended up brain dead. After three days in the hospital, Stai’s family made the decision to disconnect his life support.
Police raced to figure out exactly what these substances were and it took a week to identify that the mysterious powders were synthetic designer drugs which the law enforcement in North Dakota had never heard of before. These drugs had already cost Elijah and Christian their lives.
“When we learned they were 2C-1-NBOMe and 2C-CNBOMe, that was new to us,” said Chris Myers, North Dakota’s top federal drug prosecutor. 2C-1-NBOMe, also known as 251-NBOMe and 2C-CNBOMe, are synthetic designer drugs, chemicals designed to imitate the high of the banned drug LSD. These synthetic designer drugs are so potent that a dose the size of a few grains of salt, can be enough to get high.
In the past several years, more than 300 synthetic designer drugs with names such as Spice, N-bombs and K2 have flooded into the United States. “These drugs are being marketed and sold as [legitimate] alternatives to marijuana, cocaine, meth and heroin,” said John Scherbenske of the DEA. The federal government raced to ban chemical compounds but manufacturers had stayed one step ahead of the law by constantly changing the drug’s chemical composition.
The majority of the chemical companies manufacturing synthetic drugs are in China. The U.S. government and other Western countries have been putting pressure on the Chinese government to ban certain chemicals and to stop the export of these chemicals worldwide. The chemicals are manufactured overseas, sold online and imported into the United States, where they are assembled and packaged for resale, labeled as research chemicals, not for human consumption.
Budge had stolen the powder from a drug dealer named Andrew Spofford who purchased it online from a company called Motion Resources. Charles Carlton founded Motion Resources in 2011 and had picked up on how easy it was to buy the psychedelic designer drugs online from overseas. His website became a dealership, shipping synthetic drugs all over the U.S. under the label: ‘for analytical and research purposes only.’ He was soon making $50,000 a month. Even after reading about the deaths in Grand Forks and knowing they were due to his product, Carlton continued to sell. Budge and Carlton eventually went to prison for their distribution of the designer drugs.
The Bjerks have become activists and due to their efforts, North Dakota has enacted legislation to ban a number of synthetics. The drug that killed the teens is now on the DEA banned substances list.
The consequences of synthetic drugs experienced in North Dakota are just a couple of the many around the country. For those teens already using these substances, it is a good idea to seek help and treatment as soon as possible.
White River Academy is a boarding school that provides a combination of cutting edge and alternative treatment modalities in our residential program for teen boys between 12 and 17 years old. We help these boys overcome mental health disorders, teen drug abuse and teen co-occurring addictions and disorders. If you would like to learn more about our programs, the admissions process or the financial options available to you, please call 866-520-0905.