September 23, 2013 Updated: September 24, 2013 at 7:45 am
A woman who says her 19-year-old son died after smoking synthetic marijuana has filed a wrongful death suit against a Colorado Springs convenience store.
Stephane Colbert alleges that her son, Nicholas A. Colbert, died in 2011 after using a pot alternative called Mr. Smiley that he purchased from The Kwik Stop at 1125 S. Chelton Road, according to a news release from her Denver attorneys.
The product is similar to "Spice" and "K2" - unregulated, over-the-counter products containing undisclosed and potentially dangerous chemicals said to mimic the effects of pot.
Use of the marijuana alternatives, which are often marketed as incense that is "not for human consumption," has led to health concerns across the country, including in Colorado, where three deaths and dozens of hospitalizations are under investigation to see if they are linked to use of the products, officials say.
In May 2011, the federal government banned some chemicals associated with the products, making their sale illegal.
In response, manufacturers of the substances have in some cases altered their recipes with new unregulated chemicals in a bid to skirt the new laws, according to a National Institute on Drug Abuse website. The Drug Enforcement Administration is monitoring sales of the products and evaluating "the need to update the list of banned chemicals."
"Usually by then, the manufacturers have already moved on to another chemical," said David Woodruff, one of Colbert's attorneys. He said that even though the product purchased by Colbert contained banned chemicals, no criminal charges were filed against the store or its employees.
Colbert's lawsuit, filed in Denver District Court, alleges that Nicholas Colbert purchased Mr. Smiley from The Kwik Stop in September 2011 after the federal ban took effect, the news release says. Colbert lives in Colorado Springs.
The lawsuit seeks to prevent continued sales of the product at gas stations at other retail outlets.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said earlier this month it is partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and with local health agencies to investigate dozens of recent hospital admissions related to synthetic marijuana use.
Three deaths may be related to the drugs, which are illegal and whose chemical content, including chemicals sprayed onto the substance, is unknown, health officials said Friday in a news release. Hospitals in the Denver and Colorado Springs metropolitan areas have reported about 75 cases of synthetic pot illness in recent weeks, the agency said.