New federal law bans synthetic drugsSynthetic substances that mimic traditional illegal drugs now are against federal law.
By: Don Davis and Danielle Nordine, The Republican Eagle
Synthetic substances that mimic traditional illegal drugs now are against federal law.
President Barack Obama signed a food and drug safety bill into law Monday with provisions outlawing synthetic drugs such 2C-E and “spice.”
Work on banning the drugs has been done at the state level as well, Minnesota Board of Pharmacy Executive Director Cody Wiberg said. During the 2012 legislative session lawmakers approved a bill that added more compounds to the list of illegal drugs, made selling certain synthetic drugs a felony instead of a gross misdemeanor and gave the pharmacy board the ability to use an expedited process to outlaw dangerous drugs.
The law goes into effect Aug. 1, so the impact will be more evident in a few months, said Wiberg, who lives in Red Wing.
The federal law will help close gaps such as Internet purchasing of the chemicals that the state can’t cover, Wiberg said. The law also will add another level of possible criminal prosecution for selling such drugs, hopefully decreasing their availability.
“The greater the chance of prosecution, one would think, the greater the likelihood that people stop selling these drugs,” Wiberg said.
Wiberg emphasized these synthetics are dangerous, potentially more than the drugs they are meant to mimic. The compounds are not consistent and can have extreme side effects.
“Using these drugs is like playing a form of Russian roulette. You simply don’t know what you’re going to get,” he said.
Police attribute at least two Minnesota youths’ deaths to synthetic drugs, as well as a recent one in North Dakota.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she has heard from other families that blame deaths on what some call “designer drugs,” but have no proof that was the cause of death.
Many other youths have been hospitalized with synthetic drug problems.
The new law bans 2C-I, which Klobuchar’s office said was what last month killed 17-year-old Elijah Stai of Park Rapids, Minn. Also, Christian Bjerk, 18, of Grand Forks, N.D., died in a case police link to Stai’s death.
In 2010, Stacy Huberty of Hastings spent hours in the emergency room with her 14-year-old son, Sam, after he used synthetic marijuana. She then became one of the forces arguing for stricter laws.
“In Minnesota and across the country, we are seeing more and more tragedies where synthetic drugs are taking lives and tearing apart families,” said Klobuchar, who authored the federal synthetic drug provisions. “Today’s action means that this critical legislation to give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on synthetic drugs is finally the law of the land.”
The 2C-E hallucinogen and eight similar substances are among those banned in the new federal law. Included are K2, also known as spice, and some substances marketed as “bath salts” that affect the body much like cocaine and methamphetamine.
However, Klobuchar said in an interview, federal lawmakers need to continue dealing with the issue. People who make the synthetic drugs keep changing formulas to use chemicals that are legal.
“It is a good, strong signal that these drugs are clearly illegal,” Klobuchar said of the new law, and an existing law can be used to prosecute people who sell drugs similar to those specifically listed in the law.
The law needs to be broadened, the senator said, so as drug makers change ingredients the new formulas will be illegal. Until then, fighting synthetic drugs will remain difficult for police.
“It’s like bailing water out of your basement with a bucket,” Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger said at a Klobuchar-sponsored meeting on the issue.
Work will continue in Minnesota too, Wiberg said.
The pharmacy board will know more about future efforts after discovering how the state law passed this year affects synthetic drug sales and uses, Wiberg said. Members will be monitoring the situation closely and working to outlaw the drugs.
“The board will keep on doing what it needs to do to try to protect the public from them,” he said.
The federal synthetic drug provision was included in a broader bill that also increases food safety inspection controls.