Local Officials Support Synthetic Drug Ban

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Many synthetic drugs advertise themselves as the “legal alternative” to their illegal counterparts, but that sales pitch may not last much longer.

Local law enforcement officials are supportive of legislative efforts from U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who has recently co-sponsored a bill to curb synthetic drug use nationwide.

The bill, called the Protecting Our Youth from Dangerous Synthetic Drugs Act of 2013, would deem synthetic drugs “analogous” to Schedule I or II controlled substances if they show similarities in chemical structures or effect on users. In doing so, the bill would create a list of such “analogues,” maintained by a newly-created interagency between the U.S. Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Synthetic drugs have been a difficult issue for law enforcement and legislators in recent years. While Ohio has already banned many such drugs, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the problem doesn’t end there.

“Chemists are skirting the law by modifying the components,” reads an FAQs on synthetic drugs on DeWine’s website. “By changing the chemicals, criminals create new drugs that often are just as dangerous as the original compounds, if not worse.”

Notable items like “bath salts” and Spice (also known as K2) were banned years ago, but other popular forms of synthetic drugs remain on the market. K2 was labeled for sale as “potpourri,” but when smoked, it was said to have an effect similar to marijuana. However, the synthetic substance allegedly caused more severe side effects than its illegal counterpart, such as seizures.

In June, police said an Albany man was found unresponsive after smoking the synthetic drug “Deathgrip.” His friend reportedly said they had bought the drug over the counter from Twilight Boutique, an Athens smoke shop.

The package of “Deathgrip” confiscated by Athens County Sheriff Patrick Kelly shows an image of a skull in a hand above the words, “Not meant for human consumption.”

Such products are labeled as such in an attempt to evade the law, DeWine contends. Regardless, Portman’s senate bill states that evidence of human consumption is not necessary for anything to be classified as a controlled substance “analogue.”

Sarah Williams, an employee at the Import House, says the Athens smoke shop doesn’t carry any synthetic drugs, even those that are still legal in Ohio. She said the store often gets requests or calls from customers asking for such products, but said the store has no intention to put them on the shelves.

Chief Andrew Powers with the Ohio University Police Department said he supports efforts to curb synthetic drug use, but said they have not been prevalent on campus. He also noted the unintended effects of getting too legislatively involved in criminal issues.

“We have dealt with synthetic drugs, but I don’t know that we’ve dealt with a significant quantity,” he said. “The more we make things illegal, the more we need police officers on the streets to enforce them.”

In a statement, Sen. Portman said that the bill would help law enforcement take on an estimated 200 controlled substance analogues.

“Dangerous synthetic drugs are plaguing Ohio communities, and this bill will give states a new tool in the fight against drug abuse,” he said.

Kelly said he wholly supports Sen. Portman and appreciates that some local stores understand the effects of synthetic drugs.

“I think we will see more and more kids getting involved with these synthetic drugs as (they) progress,” he said. “It’s something that we need to be aggressive on so it doesn’t get to a point where it is a plague or an epidemic.”