USA TODAY US Edition

Bill to outlaw synthetic hallucinog­ens stalls in Senate

Chemical powders can be snorted or eaten for a high that could end in hospital or death

- By Donna Leinwand Leger

Time running out on DEA’S temporary ban on these chemical concoction­s while more accidental poisonings among teens being reported.

As the number of accidental poisonings explodes and parents recount horror stories of crazed teenagers high on synthetic marijuana and “bath salts,” federal attempts to outlaw the chemicals have stalled.

The House has passed legislatio­n that would outlaw “bath salts” and other chemical concoction­s, sold at convenienc­e stores and on the Internet as legal highs — and implicated in deaths and accidental poisonings around the country. But the legislatio­n is stuck in the Senate, where Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY., is keeping it from reaching a floor vote.

As the Senate dukes it out, the clock is running on the Drug Enforcemen­t Administra­tion’s year-long emergency bans, and casualties are growing.

The number of calls to poison control centers nationwide involving “bath salts” soared in 2011, to 6,138 from 304 in 2010. The drugs come in powder and crystal form, which resemble convention­al bath salts. Users looking for a high will snort or eat the powder.

Poison control centers fielded nearly 7,000 calls about synthetic marijuana in 2011, up from 2,906 in 2010.

“It is poison,” said Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a sponsor of a bill to outlaw synthetic marijuana. “People are spraying chemicals on a pile of plant clippings, putting that in an envelope and selling it to kids.”

Dozens of teens and young adults have been hospitaliz­ed in recent months — and some have died — after smoking, snorting or swallowing the chemicals, which mimic the highs associated with popular illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and Ecstasy.

Users have arrived in hospital emergency rooms gravely ill, and occasional­ly violent, with puzzling symptoms that confound doctors, said Debbie Carr, executive director of the American Associatio­n of Poison Control Centers. Carr said the unusual spike in cases “caused national alarm.”

-In Blaine, Minn., a 22-year-old man pleaded guilty to murder last month and faces 20 years in prison after he shared 2 C-E, a synthetic hallucinog­en he purchased on the Internet, with friends at a party. One teenager who tried the drug died.

-In Casper, Wyo., last month, public health officials warned people to avoid the synthetic drugs after three people who smoked or swallowed “blueberry spice” went into kidney failure and at least a dozen others needed medical help. “We are viewing use of this drug as a potentiall­y life-threatenin­g situation,” said Tracy Murphy, state epidemiolo­gist with the Wyoming Department of Health.

-In Bowling Green, Ky., Ashley Stillwell, a recent high school graduate, took a hit of a synthetic marijuana known as 7H while hanging out at a hookah bar with friends last year and was hospitaliz­ed, her mother, Amy Stillwell, said. “Within three minutes, she was paralyzed,” her mother said.

The teen could hear her friends talking about her, including discussing how they could dispose of her body in a river should she die, Amy Stillwell said.

When she finally recovered enough to call her parents, they took her to the hospital, where she complained that her heart felt as if it was beating out of her chest. A drug screen didn’t detect anything, so doctors called poison control to figure out how to treat her.

DEA Administra­tor Michelle Leonhart has used the agency’s emergency powers to temporaril­y outlaw the substances while the FDA conducts the scientific and medical studies needed to include the chemicals under the Controlled Substances Act, making them the equivalent of marijuana, cocaine and other illicit drugs.

A year-long ban on three synthetic stimulants used to make “bath salts” expires Oct. 21. The ban on synthetic marijuana expires in September.

Leonhart believes the chemicals pose “an imminent danger” to the public, said Special Agent Gary Boggs of the DEA’S Office of Diversion Control.

Manufactur­ers of the mixtures evade federal FDA regulation­s by printing a warning on the labels that says they are not for human consumptio­n, Boggs said.

“What that means is that people are taking things that are manufactur­ed under unregulate­d and unlicensed conditions,” he said. “These aren’t really bath salts. These things are made in basements and garages and warehouses.”

At least 39 states have taken steps to ban synthetic marijuana, and 34 states have outlawed baths salts. The latest laws ban broad classes of the chemicals to prevent chemists from tweaking formulas to make them fall outside the ban. A permanent federal ban would allow the agents to act against people who import the drugs, sell them on the Internet and ship them across state lines.

Paul, a libertaria­n who says criminal justice is the purview of the states, placed a hold on the federal legislatio­n that prevents the Senate from debating it. “He’s a doctor. He understand­s these compounds are dangerous,” said Paul spokeswoma­n Moira Bagley. “Our state has already made it illegal. It would be great to do that in all the states.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-minn., a former prosecutor who proposed legislatio­n to ban the synthetic hallucinog­ens, said she and several other senators are trying to persuade Paul to lift his block and allow debate on the Senate floor.

“We’ve had many instances in our state of people who nearly died,” Klobuchar said. “These synthetic drugs are often worse than the illegal drugs they claim to be.”

 ?? By Chris Knight, AP ?? Synthetic drugs: Containers of “bath salts,” a synthetic cocaine, sit on a counter at Hemp’s Above in Mechanicsb­urg, Pa. Calls to poison control centers involving “bath salts” rose.
By Chris Knight, AP Synthetic drugs: Containers of “bath salts,” a synthetic cocaine, sit on a counter at Hemp’s Above in Mechanicsb­urg, Pa. Calls to poison control centers involving “bath salts” rose.
 ?? By Julie Snider, USA TODAY ??
By Julie Snider, USA TODAY
 ?? By Julie Snider, USA TODAY ??
By Julie Snider, USA TODAY
 ?? By Kelley Mccall, AP ?? K2: This concoction of dried herbs is sprayed with chemicals and can be smoked as a synthetic marijuana.
By Kelley Mccall, AP K2: This concoction of dried herbs is sprayed with chemicals and can be smoked as a synthetic marijuana.

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