Portman seeks speedier solution to synthetic drugs

If synthetic drug manufacturers are the hare then federal laws are the tortoise, but slow and steady is not winning the race.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, introduced a bill Tuesday to help law enforcement officials and prosecutors keep up with the ever-changing formulas for synthetic drugs. The drugs, such as K2 and Spice, mimic the effects of illegal drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and LSD.

Between January and November, poison control centers nationwide responded to about 3,900 calls related to synthetic drugs, which are typically sold at gas stations, head shops and online.

The Protecting Our Kids from Dangerous Synthetic Drugs Act would allow a committee of scientists, headed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, to create and maintain a list of synthetic drugs or controlled substance knockoffs. The committee in charge of the list could act much quicker than lawmakers, who can take years to label a substance illegal, according to Portman’s office.

If approved, substances on the list could not be imported unless intended for nonhuman use. The bill also would direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review federal sentencing guidelines on synthetic drugs, according to Portman’s office.

The proposed act was first introduced in 2013. Despite facing no opposition, the proposal never made it to the Senate floor, Portman’s staff said. His office is hopeful it will go further this time.

Portman helped to pass the nation’s first ban on synthetic drugs in 2012.

Ohio started using administrative rules to outlaw synthetic drugs and keep up with the frequently changing formulas. Last April, the state pharmacy board banned two chemical compounds, PB-22 and 5F-PB-22. The latter caused a hallucinating Mount Vernon man to plead with police to shoot him.

Even the expedited process took about a year. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine asked lawmakers to look into giving his office authority to temporarily ban certain chemical substances. A bill was introduced but saw no action before the end of the year.

Synthetic drug use among adolescents was on the decline in 2014 from the previous two years, according to the nationwide Monitoring the Future survey, which first tracked the knockoff drugs in 2012. Last year, 3.3 percent of eighth-grade students and 5.8 percent of 12th-grade students admitted they had tried the substances, according to the report.

jbalmert@gannett.com

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