(Washington, D.C.) Congressman Charlie Dent (PA-15) was joined by Congressman Jim Himes (CT-4), Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) and Congressman David Jolly (FL-13) to announce Dent’s introduction of H.R. 3537, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2015.
The use of these highly potent new drugs, like “flakka” and “molly” has skyrocketed across the country. Currently, the drugs are often sold legally in colorful, readily identifiable, and branded packaging. These drugs are distributed at independent retailers, head shops, or online, and they bear the legal fig leaf ‘not for human consumption’ to avoid FDA regulation
“The use and abuse of synthetic drugs is having a devastating impact on families and communities across the country. Many of these drugs possess similar or greater narcotic effects than other illegal drugs, like heroin or PCP, but are distributed through legal channels on the basis that the specific compounds are not expressly prohibited,” said Dent.
If enacted, the Synthetic Drug Control Act would strengthen existing federal law which provides that any compound which is chemically or pharmacologically similar to a controlled substance in Schedule I or II of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is to be legally treated as though it were also listed in that same schedule.
Dent, Himes, Norton and Jolly want to strengthen current law – the Federal Analogue Act – to facilitate the prosecution of synthetic drug distributors and make that law a more useful tool for law enforcement. The bill also adds a list of known synthetic drugs identified by the DEA into Schedule I.
“This bill has a simple purpose: stop the sale of deadly synthetic drugs,” Congressman Dent emphasized. “In only a few months, counties in my district saw nearly fifty overdoses leading to hospitalizations and, in at least two cases, death. That’s alongside assaults against law enforcement personnel, EMTs, and emergency room staff resulting from the severe psychological effects caused by these synthetic drugs,” he explained.
To ensure that this legislation targets distributors rather than end users, the Synthetic Drug Control Act narrows the Analogue Act to provide that it should only apply to the sale, manufacture, import, and distribution of drugs – not simple possession.
Congressman Himes stated the importance of this legislation:
“Synthetic drugs are being marketed in convenience stores and other markets as a safe, legal alternative to controlled substances,” said Himes. “This is far from the truth. Without any serious regulation or enforcement, the manufacturers of these drugs are exploiting a legal loophole to put untested, potentially dangerous drugs on the street, where the people buying them have no idea what sort of effect they’re going to have. The side effects can include aggression, disorientation and hallucination, which can lead to harm for the user and others. We need them off the street.”
Congresswoman Norton has seen a major increase in synthetic drug overdoses in the District of Columbia.
“The District of Columbia, like many jurisdictions across the nation, is struggling to fight a synthetic drug crisis that continues to plague our residents,” Norton said. “Manufacturers that produce these dangerous drugs are exploiting current federal drug laws that allow them to market their products as a cheap alternative to other drugs. Synthetic drugs can be even more dangerous than the usual dangerous street drugs because of their high risk of overdose and extreme psychotic effects. Our bill eliminates that gaping loophole and gives the DEA the tools it needs to take down manufacturers and retailers, putting the focus on prosecuting distributors, not users. Strong laws and an effective partnership between federal, state, and local law enforcement are critical to keeping these drugs off our streets and our residents safe.”
Congressman Jolly noted that the public wants action taken against synthetic drugs. “These highly addictive synthetic drugs are extremely dangerous and have resulted in a spike in emergency room visits and overdose deaths in Florida and across the nation. Families, survivors, law enforcement, and health advocates are rightfully demanding action and I'm proud to join with Mr. Dent to responsibly address this growing crisis.”
Commander Robin Hoey of D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) Narcotics and Special Investigations Division was also on-hand to show support. Earlier this month, the MPD, with collaboration from law enforcement partners including members of Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Maryland State Police, seized the largest amount of synthetic drugs in D.C.’s history.
The Members of Congress were joined by Dr. Alex Rosenau, Immediate Past President of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and Senior Vice Chair of Emergency Medicine of the Lehigh Valley Health Network, located in Congressman Dent’s District.
“Unapproved synthetic drugs are destroying lives every day in the USA,” said Dr. Rosenau. “ With a wink and a nod, they are sold over the counter, claim to give users a good time, then destroy their lives, flood emergency rooms with critically sick kids, and tie up EMS and law enforcement resources. Representatives Dent and Himes work every day on our citizens' behalf. Today this bipartisan team has made the health and future of our neighbors a top priority,” Dr. Rosenau continued. “Let's help Members of Congress Dent and Himes ensure the future of our kids and make our neighborhoods safe.”
The ACEP announced that they were supporting Dent’s legislation in a letter on September 17th. Dent’s bill “ . . . will help curb access to these dangerous substances,” they wrote.“These synthetic drugs are causing unacceptable rates of injury and death, endangering our communities, and putting a critical strain on law enforcement and emergency medical resources,” said Dent. “These drugs owe their popularity to their easy access and semi-legal status. By fixing the existing law, the Synthetic Drug Control Act will take these drugs off of convenience store shelves and help crack down on online commerce. I greatly appreciate Representative Himes, Norton, Jolly and our other colleagues who are co-sponsors of this much needed legislation,” Dent concluded.