WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Chuck Schumer led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing legislation aimed at controlling dangerous synthetic substances marketed as alternatives to illicit drugs. The Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act bans 22 synthetic chemicals including 11 used to create synthetic marijuana, often marketed as “K2” or “Spice,” as well as three derivatives of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid estimated to be 100 times more powerful than morphine that has been associated with numerous overdose outbreaks.
“Synthetic drugs continue to cause significant harm to communities across the country including those in Iowa. At a recent Judiciary Committee hearing, we heard the heartbreaking story of how a young Iowan took his own life while under the violent influence of K2 the very first time he used it. Our bill cracks down on these dangerous substances by permanently controlling them under federal law. It’s an important first step to preventing further loss of innocent life to these dangerous and deceiving drugs,” Grassley said.
Abuse and misuse of synthetic drugs represents an emerging and ongoing public health and safety threat in the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. These substances are designed in laboratories to mimic the effects of known controlled substances, thereby circumventing drug controls. Many are marketed to young people, sold in packages with bright colors and cartoons, and in “head shops” and other legitimate establishments. Poison control centers have received a 95 percent increase in calls related to synthetic drugs in recent years, with more than 8,000 calls in 2015 alone.
The Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act adds 22 synthetic substances to schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the appropriate classification for substances with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Placing these synthetic substances on schedule I strengthens law enforcement’s ability to prosecute traffickers.
In Iowa, many of these substances have been encountered by law enforcement and present an imminent public health threat to Iowans. For example, on February 18, 2014, the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy issued a Synthetic Drug Alert relating to one of these substances that was linked to three deaths in 2013. More recently, on June 23, 2016, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa announced charges against an Iowa City head shop owner for selling another one of these substances.
Grassley convened a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the problem of synthetic drugs in June. Among the witnesses who testified was Mike Rozga of Indianola, whose son David killed himself after a suffering an acute reaction to K2.
Grassley has successfully pushed for action to protect the public from the dangers of synthetic drugs for many years. In 2011, the Judiciary Committee passed his bill, the David Mitchell Rozga Act, which placed a series of other chemicals used to make K2 on schedule I and extended the time for which a substance can be temporarily scheduled by the DEA to protect the public. The bill became law as part of the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012.