Eighteen-year-old Christian Bjerk was a popular high school football player. The middle of Keith and Debbie Bjerk’s three sons, he was looking forward to starting at North Dakota State College of Science in the fall of 2012 and playing on the college’s football team.
But 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.
“He teared up, and I didn’t know what was going on, and he said it’s Christian, he’s deceased,” Keith Bjerk told CNN.
Keith last saw his son the night before as Christian was going out to buy gas. The Bjerks would later learn that their son 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 was naked on a bench, the other screaming at parked car. Right away, the police suspected that drugs were involved.
According to 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 couldn’t determine what it was.
Days later, another teen was dead, and again, a mysterious white powder was involved. Officers were racing to figure out exactly what these substances were.
Fatal reactions from mystery substance
Elijah Stai and his foster brother Justin Rippentrop came to Grand Forks from Park Rapids, Minnesota. They were celebrating Elijah’s upcoming 18th birthday and visiting his cousin.
Elijah and Justin were hanging out with their cousin’s boyfriend, Adam Budge, when according to Justin, he offered them a special treat — a bag of chocolate he cooked with a white powder. Justin said that Adam told them the powder was an extract from psychedelic mushrooms.
Elijah was nervous, Justin said, because he had never tried psychedelic mushrooms before.
Soon after they ate the bag of laced chocolate, the hallucinations began.
“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.”
Justin said that he had tried psychedelic mushrooms once before, but he quickly realized this was something different.
Elijah started having a violent reaction to the drug. He was convulsing uncontrollably, foaming at the mouth and hitting his head. By the time the ambulance arrived, Justin said he knew Elijah was gone.
Elijah was rushed to Grand Fork’s Altru Hospital, where Dr. Qasim Durrani, an ICU physician treated him. Dr. Durrani said Elijah was suffering from multiple organ failure and had also gone into cardiac arrest.
Elijah was brain dead. On June 15, 2012, after three days in the hospital, his family decided to disconnect his life support.
“It was an unusual overdose,” said Durrani. “The dilemma was, what has he taken?”
The new world of drug dealing
Elijah’s death, the second in two days from a mysterious drug sent shock waves through the community.
It took the state lab a week to identify that the mysterious powders were synthetic designer drugs — drugs that law enforcement in North Dakota had never heard of before. Elijah and Christian had died from taking these drugs.
“When we learned they were 2C-I-NBOMe, and 2C-C-NBOMe, that was new to us,” said Chris Myers, North Dakota’s top federal drug prosecutor.
2C-I-NBOMe (also known as 25I-NBOMe) and 2C-C-NBOMe 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 four years, more than 300 synthetic designer drugs with names such as Spice, N-bombe and K2, have flooded into the United States.
“These drugs are being marketed and sold as legal alternatives to marijuana, cocaine, meth and heroin,” said John Scherbenske of the DEA.
As states and the federal government race to “schedule” or ban chemical compounds, the manufacturers are staying one step ahead of the law by constantly changing the drugs’ chemical composition.
“The chemical companies are altering the compound ever so slightly to avoid our laws here in the United States. Once they alter that chemical, it is no longer a controlled substance,” said Scherbenske.
According to the DEA, 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.
In the new world of drug dealing, the chemicals are manufactured overseas, sold online in bulk and imported into the United States, where they are assembled and packaged for resale. These drugs are then labeled as research chemicals, not for human consumption, to avoid prosecution.
Scherbenske said there is no known legitimate purposes for these chemicals.
The drugs that killed Christian and Elijah were not banned by the DEA at the time of their death. The teens’ parents had never even heard of 2C-I-NBOME.
“I had to go to the Internet, and look up information on it,” said Keith Bjerk. “I didn’t really know what it was, I didn’t get how dangerous they were.”
In North Dakota, law enforcement was trying to track where the new drugs came from and figure out how to get them off the street. The investigation quickly led them to Budge.
“Adam Budge early on in the investigation was the common link [between] the two overdoses,” said prosecutor Myers.
According to Myers, Budge, who was 18 at the time, melted the 2C-I-NBOME powder into chocolate that he gave to Elijah, and also sold some of the same drug to Wesley Sweeney, also then 18, who gave it to Christian Bjerk.
Myers said Budge didn’t know exactly what the powder was, because he stole it from a drug dealer named Andrew Spofford, 22, who bought it over the Internet from an online company called Motion Resources. Read more “CNN”…