Intermedia Arts building is canvas for social media campaign

Credit: Ian Karp, mentor JoJo of Murals by Eros, and Tom Cochrane Cole (l to r) create a graffiti mural to highlight the state's synthetic drug social media campaign. Photo by Consolidated Media

A wall of Intermedia Arts is promoting a social media campaign on the dangers of synthetic drugs.

Graffiti art that will stay up thru mid-May flashes the website, a site created by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The Department created the website when staff realized they couldn’t find good online information on drugs like synthetic marijuana and “bath salts.”

The drugs are incredibly unpredictable, according to Lucinda Jesson, commissioner of the Dept. of Human Services. The drugs can cause paranoia, strokes or even death, she said. She’s heard horror stories from ER doctors who saw patients trying to pull out their own teeth or poke out their own eyes.

“One of the things we’re trying to let everybody know is these drugs vary dramatically,” she said. “One batch of drugs can vary from the next batch. … You really don’t know what you’re taking.”

Jesson said Minnesota saw a spike in synthetic drug use in 2010-11. According to a 2012 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, high school seniors listed synthetic marijuana as the second most common illegal drug used in the past year behind traditional marijuana. The Institute said the drug appealed to youth because the chemicals were not easily detected in standard drug tests, and the drug was relatively easy to purchase at head shops and gas stations.

Minnesota passed a law in 2014 to help enforce a prohibition on sales of synthetic drugs. Duluth has a higher concentration of synthetic drug use than Minneapolis, Jesson said. The former owner of the Last Place on Earth in Duluth — a shuttered store that police once called the largest synthetic drug retailer in the U.S. — was convicted in 2013 for his role in a conspiracy to distribute synthetic drugs.

Minnesota has since tracked synthetic use going down a bit, Jesson said, as fewer teenagers are going to treatment for synthetic drug use. But the drugs are still widely available online, she said.

Two high school students helped paint the mural at 2822 Lyndale Ave. S., along with JoJo, who works as a muralist at Intermedia Arts. The walls are available for aerosol artists to paint with permission.