Bills would outlaw new designer drugs
Legislators and medical experts are concerned about the rising use of synthetic drugs known as “bath salts,” which cause a cocaine-like high – and in rare instances can cause death.
The stimulant, promoted by some YouTube videos and websites, is not to be confused with everyday bathing products. After smoking, inhaling or injecting the designer drug, users may experience euphoria – as well as nausea, seizures, paranoia and other side effects, experts say.
The side effects can be dangerous and even deadly. A woman in New Orleans, for example, had to have an arm amputated after injecting bath salts at a party. Dozens of people across the United States have died after using the stimulant, officials say.
In 2011, the Virginia General Assembly unanimously approved legislation to criminalize the possession or distribution of certain synthetic drugs. However, the narrowly tailored statute left the door open for new combinations of chemicals.
This year, two bills that target the latest ingredients for making synthetic drugs are moving through the General Assembly:
• House Bill 508, sponsored by Delegate T. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg. The House unanimously passed the measure on Tuesday.
• Senate Bill 273, by Sen. Ralph K. Smith, R-Roanoke. (It incorporates SB 223, by Sen. Mark R. Herring, D-Leesburg.) The Senate unanimously approved this legislation on Feb. 10; it is now before the House Courts of Justice Committee.
Virginia legislators aren’t the only officials concerned about synthetic stimulants. In October, the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration banned three components of bath salts: mephedrone; 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV); and methylone.
“This action demonstrates our commitment to keeping our streets safe from these and other new and emerging drugs that have decimated families, ruined lives and caused havoc in communities across the country,” said DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart.
“These chemicals pose a direct and significant threat, regardless of how they are marketed, and we will aggressively pursue those who attempt their manufacture and sale.”
The bills before the Virginia General Assembly would add a more generic chemical description of synthetic cannabinoids and stimulants to state law, making new combinations illegal.
“This year’s changes will make it more difficult for those who are making and selling these dangerous drugs to skirt our laws,” Herring said.
In an analysis of SB 273, the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission explained that last year’s legislation targeted:
• Synthetic marijuana, sold under such names as K2 and Spice
• Bath salts and other synthetic stimulants, which are marketed under such names as Mystic, Blue Magic and Cloud 9
Such products sometimes are sold on the Internet, in convenience stories and in “head shops,” officials said.
The 2011 law made MDPV and mephedrone Schedule I drugs in Virginia’s Drug Control Act. Possession of a Schedule I drug is a Class 5 felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison. Sale of a Schedule I drug can draw a 40-year sentence and $500,000 fine.
“Despite these changes, manufacturers continue to circumvent state law by slightly altering the chemical composition of the synthetic cannabinoids. The reformulated substances are then substituted for the currently banned ones,” the sentencing commission’s analysis said.
It said that last summer, Virginia’s state forensic laboratory tested 468 drug samples received from law enforcement agencies statewide. “Only 101 of these samples contained currently banned substances.”
The DEA has received a growing number of reports about bath salts from hospitals, poison control centers and law enforcement agencies across the nation. The drug can cause panic attacks, depression, suicidal thought, delusions and vomiting, medical experts say. It also can trigger a rapid heart rate, which may lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Citizen Staff Reports 07/18/2016
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