Trying again: Rep. Katko Says his Legislation Will Tackle Distributors of Synthetic Drugs

Jun 20, 2017

Rep. John Katko, left, and Teresa Woolson. Woolson's son, Victor, died at age 19 after ingesting a synthetic compound called XLR-11 in 2011.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

Syracuse-area Congressmember John Katko is trying once again to push through legislation aimed at plugging the pipeline of synthetic drugs.  The bi-partisan, bi-cameral legislation is the latest attempt to tackle the epidemic that continues to sweep the region and the nation.

Congress has been trying for at least two years to help law enforcement catch up with the changing composition of the deadly substances.  Representative Katko introduced legislation in the previous congress in December 2015.  Senator Chuck Schumer called attention to the matter earlier that year, and introduced his own legislation last summer.  Katko feels this bill will finally modernize the controlled substances act by streamlining the process of adding a newly identified compound to a list called Schedule A within 30 days.

"Once it's on that list, what you can do is not only arrest people who are possessing with intent to distribute, knowing it's a controlled substance, you can go into head shops, go into stores,  and say this is now illegal and we're taking it off your shelves right now."

Teresa Woolson holds a poster with information about her foundation named after her late son.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

For Teresa Woolson, the legislation comes too late for her son, but she hopes it can save other lives.  

"If they can do what this this bill, identify them and put them on the schedule, it's going to be huge because law enforcement can't even take them off the shelves.  They're on the shelves killing people because there are no laws, and that's unacceptable to me."

Victor Woolson died in 2011 after buying a substance identified at XLR-11 from a store. 

"It was identified in 2012 as a deadly synthetic compound implicated in the death of my son and others.  It took four years, until May 11, 2016, for that drug to be added to the controlled substances list."Katko’s legislation comes after a recent surge in overdoses in the city’s mission district.  Rescue Mission CEO Alan Thornton says they’ve witnessed scores of individuals fall prey to synthetic drugs.

"Some of these victims have been passerby or guests of the Rescue Mission.  While we work with law enforcement and hire sheriff's deputies to patrol our campus regularly to keep away dealers who might prey on those we serve, the proliferation of synthetic drugs and the lack of legal tools to control them have made it difficult to prevent every adverse reaction."

Local and federal law enforcement have long said their hands are frequently tied when it comes to prosecuting distributors of certain synthetic drug compounds because they aren’t on the list of banned substances.  Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler says they always want to do more.

Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler, left, and Rep. Katko, right chat after the press conference.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

"We can likely make an arrest, but we can only go so far.  In making an arrest, we're limited as to what we can charge this person with.  Once these substances are scheduled, then we can charge them with distribution."

Katko says his legislation has the support of key congressional democrats and republicans in both houses, so he’s hopeful that this time around, it might actually get through.

"I'm confident it's going to go.  We're going to raise hell if it's not, for sure.  This is too important."