Keeping a Step Ahead of Synthesized Drugs

Jul 9, 2013

A Pennsylvania legislator hopes he has found the solution to a cat and mouse game in which the makers of synthesized drugs, including bath salts, would change the composition of the drugs to keep them legal.  State Representative Jerry Stern (R-Blair County) is adding his own changes-- to the law.

After hallucinogenic chemicals known as bath salts became popular with drug users, Pennsylvania lawmakers in 2010 added them to the list of prohibited substances in the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act of 1972.

But when the lawmakers thought the bath salt craze was over, the producers changed the chemical composition slightly and could then continue to sell the drugs legally.

Representative Stern is the primary sponsor of House Bill 1217, which became law this month.

The law amends the original 1972 Act and aims at taking synthetic drugs off the market by clarifying the list of illegal compositions.

“The basic composition will not change, but yet anything added to it that’s not on the USDA prescription list and is allowed would be deemed unacceptable,” Stern said.

Stern said those selling the bath salts were prosecuted before, but when they changed the composition they could not be charged.

“It’s designed to allow our prosecutors to end up prosecuting those who are in possession of bath salts, and previously they had a hard time prosecuting because of the changes, the slight changes, that were made to the original law,” Stern said.

The original law has been amended multiple times, the last being in 2011 with the inclusion of bath salts.

Stern said bath salts and synthetic marijuana are now banned in 40 states.

“Pretty much the law in 2011 eradicated, took care of the problem at the time, it got the bath salts off the street,” Stern said. “But because of the changes, then they started making a comeback so we needed to change the composition so any time they try to change the synthetic form of it, that they would be held accountable.”

According to Stern, most of these synthesized drugs are manufactured in places like Indonesia and China and sold in the United States.

Stern worked with the Pennsylvania State Police laboratory, which recommended changes that would clarify the language in the original law.

Stern said the changes will save many lives in Pennsylvania.