WASHINGTON — The father of an Indianola teen who died six years ago after using a legal synthetic drug will tell Senate lawmakers Tuesday that people who manufacture and distribute the substances are moving faster than law enforcement and using “our own laws against us.”
In prepared remarks ahead of Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mike Rozga says the production of synthetic drugs is evolving rapidly, starting first with cannabinoids to most recently heroin, because they are “quicker, easier and, most importantly, cheaper” to produce and market than their traditional counterparts.
Rozga’s 18-year-old son, David, committed suicide in 2010 when he smoked the legal synthetic marijuana known as “K2.” Since then, Rozga has worked to increase awareness about the dangers of synthetic narcotics, which can cause severe hallucinations, seizures and violent behavior.
In the case of synthetic marijuana, the drug is typically composed of plant matter and sprayed with a chemical that mimics the active ingredient in marijuana. It is usually more potent.
“We are living in a time when bath salts are not put in your bathwater, K2 is not the second-highest mountain in the world, Purple Haze is not a Jimi Hendrix song, and Ivory Snow is not soap,” Rozga planned to testify. “We are not moving quickly enough and we are not giving law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation named for Rozga’s son that placed some synthetic cannabinoids and their analogs on the schedule 1 list — meaning they have no accepted medical use and have a high risk for abuse. The bill, which strengthened penalties for traffickers, was enacted in 2012 and initially resulted in a drop in calls to poison centers.
But according to Grassley, calls for synthetic marijuana have started to rise again, increasing from 2,668 in 2013 to 7,779 in 2015. One challenge, he said, is that as soon as the government bans a new drug, manufacturers make a slight change so the new version is not illegal.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has estimated that substances identified from federal, state or local laboratories as synthetic marijuana have increased from 23 reports in 2009 to more than 37,000 in 2014.
“While this committee acted a few years ago, it’s clear the traffickers are continuing to outpace us,” Grassley is to say in his opening remarks Tuesday. “This is a difficult problem without easy answers. We need to take a hard look at whether law enforcement has the tools needed to protect the public from these synthetic drugs.”
According to the DEA, most synthetic drugs in the United States come from China through the mail or across the southern border with Mexico.