Legislation Aims to Limit Access to Synthetic Drugs, Punish Store Owners
The synthetic drug epidemic continues in Central New York, and Congressmember John Katko and his colleagues have submitted legislation aimed at getting the drugs off the shelves. If approved, the measure would remove a key barrier to prosecuting those who sell the substances. Law enforcement officials on all levels have been saying for years that their hands are often tied because the drugs have to be on the federal drug analog statute to warrant arrests.
But former federal prosecutor turned Congressmember John Katko says the manufacturers skirt the law by slightly changing the drug’s composition to avoid the list. Then he says there’s a long process to getting new substances registered.
"This bill fixes that. What this bill does is expedite the process. It sets up a new panel that's charged with handling these new chemical compositions as they come up on an expedited basis, and then putting them in the federal register. Once they're there for 30 days, they become law, and are listed on the drug analog statute. No longer will it take a couple years; it'll take a short period of time."
Maybe just a couple months at most. Katko says that would give law enforcement the authority they need.
"Once it gets listed, the chief and his guys, the sheriff too, can go every place carrying this stuff and clear the shelves. They can be arrested for selling a controlled substance."
The drugs, often called spice or spike, are typically sold over the counter at gas stations or convenience stores. That accessibility proved fatal three years ago for Victor Orlando Woolson. He succumbed to total organ failure when he overdosed on a drug called pineapple avalanche. His mother Theresa formed a non-profit and talks about her son as often as she can in hopes of preventing other families from enduring the same devastation.
"Victor was a healthy, strong 19-year-old kid studying criminal justice. He wouldn't have taken an illegal product. Just a few days before he died, he said to me, 'How bad can it be, mom? It's in a store.'"
Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick:
"The markedly different thing about these drugs is you can walk into a legitimate store and buy them. That's unacceptable. This statute, god willing it's passed by Congress, is going to go a long way to change that."
Health commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta says six people in Onondaga County have died from synthetic drug overdoses this year alone. The poison center has received more than 300 calls for exposure to the substances since January.
"Family members and friends see it firsthand. In many cases, they're not sure how to handle it. First responders, law enforcement officials, and medical providers all have seen it during their encounters either in the field or the ER when they're trying to diagnose the problem and actually implement right treatment."
In addition to the expert committee, the proposed legislation would also prevent the importation of synthetic drugs, and direct the u-s sentencing commission to review and possibly amend federal sentencing guidelines. Katko says the bill has bi-partisan support in both the houses.