Ban on synthetic drugs cheered around the state

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and law enforcement officials around the state are hailing new legislation permanently banning bath salts, synthetic marijuana and other synthetic hallucinogens.

Last week the United States Senate passed the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act, which will ban 31 synthetic substances. The bill is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama in the coming weeks, and once it is it will classify the drugs as Schedule I Controlled Substances, making it illegal to prescribe, administer or dispense them.

The federal law will enable the Drug Enforcement Administration to monitor the movement of these substances across state lines and on the Internet while imposing harsher federal penalties on offenders.

“I was one of the original advocates [of the law] because of my alarm about the spreading epidemic of these substances and my own law enforcement background,” Mr. Blumenthal told the Post last week.

Synthetic drugs, specifically bath salts, “can cause horrific and violent reactions,” which include “paranoid or psychotic episodes, self-mutilation, suicide, and other kinds of very severe problems,” Mr. Blumenthal said. The new ban on these drugs is critical, he said, because it will allow for “heavy prison and financial penalties” for those who use or administer them.

According to Mr. Blumenthal, the number of people who abuse substances such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana has skyrocketed over the last few years, and the prevalence of their “very public availability” has been alarming. In fact, the majority of these drugs have a label warning buyers that the substances are “not for human consumption,” but they continue to be abused, the senator said.

“My hope is that … federal enforcement agents and officers will waste no time in using these enhanced powers to stop the powerful spread of bath salts and synthetic marijuana,” he said.

Public awareness of the effects of bath salts rose dramatically in May after the nationwide coverage of an attack in Miami, Fla., in which 31-year-old Rudy Eugene, believed to be high on the substance, stripped naked and ate the face of 65-year-old Ronald Poppo. The incident, which quickly became fodder for comedians, did end up bringing attention to what people like Mr. Blumenthal believe is a serious problem.

Poison control centers across the country received 303 calls about bath salts in 2010, and 5,226 such calls between January 1, 2011, and September 30, 2011, according to a press release sent by the Greenwich Police Department announcing its support for the new law.

Locally, within the first six months of 2012, the Connecticut Poison Control Center received at least 50 calls indicating exposure to bath salts, synthetic marijuana, and other synthetic hallucinogens, which are most often purchased in local convenience stores.

Although these incidents have not been prevalent in town, Greenwich Chief of Police James Heavey believes it is important to alert residents to the issue because many aren’t aware of the escalating problem.

Banning synthetic substances is critical, he said, because of the rapid increase in the abuse of these drugs. For instance, since bath salts can be smoked, snorted or injected, he said, it makes the substances all too easy to ingest.

The core issue is that the effects of bath salts are similar to those of cocaine and LSD, delivering a “quick, dangerous high” that causes delusions, suicide and other hazardous physical reactions, Chief Heavey explained.

While Greenwich police have had little exposure to incidents involving synthetic drugs, it’s important that the community be educated on the issue, he added, especially because of the sharp increase in abuse over the last two years.

 

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