Synthetic drugs, pharmacological copycats of common narcotics, have been illegal in West Virginia for more than two years, but their appeal hasn't gone away in some circles, mostly because the drugs still are difficult to detect using traditional methods.
Joe DeLong, executive director of the state Regional Jail Authority, said synthetic drugs are a problem at all 10 state jails.
"It's on a daily basis here," said Mickey Skeens, physical clerk at Central Regional Jail.
DeLong said each jail has at least one officer charged with opening inmates' mail to search for contraband, looking through photos, envelopes and letters.
"Any means of bringing anything into a facility always creates an opportunity for contraband," he said.
Some jails have scanners to look for illegal substances, but none of that technology is foolproof.
"Each time we figure out what the recipe is and how to detect it, they change the recipe and we're back to square one," Skeens said.
And while officers catch most contraband, DeLong said, "with the synthetic drugs, they can do things that make that stuff almost impossible to detect."
"It becomes a constant battle between the good guys and the bad guys," he said.
Skeens said sometimes, individuals take the narcotic Suboxone, crush it up, mix it with water and paint it on a piece of notebook paper.
"It's almost transparent where you can't see the paper's been wet," he said.
The author will include a secret message within their letter to let inmates know where the Suboxone was painted. The inmates can then eat that part of the letter and get high.