2010 saw the introduction of synthetic drugs into the US. Since then, such substances have become a serious and lethal problem among today’s youth. Unregulated and highly addictive, these drugs are easy to find and quick to kill. The worst part? Most of them are legal.
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Homeland Security, and Investigations held a hearing to discuss the threats such drugs pose and what law enforcement can do to stop them.
“Cheap, dangerous, and often marketed to youth, designer synthetic drugs are becoming increasingly popular among teens and young adults – to lethal effect,” says Pasadena Congresswoman Judy Chu. “The stories I heard today were incredibly moving and helped to open all of our eyes to the pernicious impact these new drugs are having on our communities. Produced in a laboratory to mimic or enhance natural drugs, synthetic drugs do not receive FDA approval or any oversight. Instead, they are sold readily in stores and online.”
“Heroin you need to cultivate. You need fields, you need workers, you need labor,” says prevention specialist Heather Davidson. “With something like a snythetic drug, you just need a laboratory and chemical compound and a base and you’re able to create it very cheaply.”
Chu, who attended the hearing as one of the lead Dems of the subcommittee, cites Devin Eckhardt’s tearful testimony as an example: his son slipped into a coma and died after his first experience with the synthetic drug “spice.”
Chu calls for a proactive approach to streamline the identification of these dangerous drugs, fight the manufacture and importation of such substances, and work with local law enforcement and businesses to keep them off the street and out of kids’ hands.
Kids are easy targets because they assume any product they can legally buy at a drugstore or gas station is safe. “Kratom,” which was widely available a couple years ago, infiltrated cafes and coffee shops as a type of tea. In reality, kratom is a highly addictive narcotic painkiller. Those who stop drinking the “tea” experience withdrawals similar to that of a heroin addict.
Kratom gained notoriety in 2014 when a 19-year old in Florida committed suicide after using the drug for a prolonged period of time. Numerous states and counties are trying to ban the substance, but it is still legal in most states.
Kratom is just one of many such drugs. As reported earlier this week by Houston Public Media, a multi-agency investigation has successfully quashed a massive synthetic drug operation in Texas.
“Kush,” sold at convenience stores and gas stations, was marketed as “synthetic marijuana.” Investigators located and seized over 9 tons of the stuff and 16 individuals have been charged with money laundering and selling.
Kush can “lead to all kinds of physical and mental issues, and you can die,” says Texas attorney Kenneth Magidson. The raw chemicals used to make the drug are imported from other countries and mixed with plant materials – sometimes using dirty machinery like cement mixers. “These synthetic cannabinoids are nothing more than unregulated chemicals sprayed on plant material. It’s poison,” says DEA special agent Joseph Arabit.
The main reason the DEA is having such a hard time keeping up with the widespread distribution and use of synthetic drugs is that such drugs are typically banned based on the ingredients they contain. Under the current system, manufactures can tweak the recipe to create a legal drug.
This year, the District of Columbia and Florida enacted laws that change the way synthetic drugs are classified. Rather than focus on the chemical makeup, these new laws schedule drugs based on the reaction they cause – meaning that any drug trying to “mimic” an illegal substance will automatically be considered illegal.
“It bans substances before they appear or before we even know about them,” says Florida epidemiologist James Hall. “It breaks this vicious cycle of a new drug appearing, finally getting it scheduled or banned and then another one rushing in to take its place.”
Florida is currently struggling to ban “flakka,” a dangerous cocaine imitator that has already caused more than 60 deaths in the Sunshine State.
Editor’s note: Was watching C-Span on this issue, a researcher expressed his fear that new laws against these synthetics might limit the hypothetical uses of these drugs. I wanted to pound him.
Let’s take a look at this for a minute. This researcher does research that enables these dangerous drugs to be produced and THEN HE PUBLISHES IT! And suddenly tens of thousands of kids are being damaged by addictive substances that no one has ever seen before. Doesn’t the Hippocratic Oath say something about “first do no harm”?
The harm this asshole and his profession have caused by irresponsible handling of research is unfathonable. And what does he hope to discover? Some extra pain relievers?