Tougher synthetic drug bill passes final hurdle

Gov. Kasich expects to sign new law soon.

Gov. John Kasich in the next few weeks is expected to sign into law a bill that seeks to put a stop to the possession, sale and production of synthetic drugs such as “Spice” and “bath salts.”

The bill, which passed the Ohio House in a 94-0 vote Wednesday after unanimously clearing the Senate earlier this month, seeks to close a loophole in current law that synthetic drug-makers have exploited to keep their products in the hands of users and out of reach of law enforcement and prosecutors, officials said.

A new study shows young people are some of the biggest abusers of synthetic marijuana, and authorities said bath salts are marketed to youth.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the new law will save lives and help bring makers and sellers of dangerous drugs to justice.

“This is some really nasty stuff,” he said. “We’ve had people die from taking this stuff.”

Both state houses unanimously passed substitute H.B. 334, which seeks to outlaw synthetic drugs that are sold under names such as “OMG,” “Bizarro,” “Ivory Wave,” and “Vanilla Sky” and have been often abused by people 25 and younger. DeWine said the drugs are very addictive, and the high can induce violence and extreme paranoia.

State lawmakers passed legislation in October 2011 that sought to ban these substances, but chemists have managed to skirt the law by altering the chemical components in their products, DeWine said.

“It’s been a moving target,” he said.

The original legislation was written in such a way that it was supposed to prevent drug-makers from slightly modifying their products to get around the ban. But the law has proved ineffective at achieving that goal, officials said. DeWine said the new bill will hopefully close any legal loopholes and criminalize these products.

“The thought was the first bill was flexible enough to cover any changes (made by chemists), but that didn’t work,” he said. “We think this will cover this for a while, but there is no guarantee that someone can’t find a way around it.”

The bill will also help authorities better track sales of products that contain pseudoephedrine, a primary ingredient in the production of methamphetamine.

Synthetic drugs are commonly sold over the Internet and in corner stores, small gas stations and smoke shops. Oftentimes they are advertised as incense or bath salts, but in actuality, they are powerful drugs that can be smoked, ingested or injected.

In 2011, emergency rooms across the state were inundated with patients who displayed erratic, unstable and psychotic behavior resulting from abuse of synthetic drugs, according to medical officials.

Local physicians said patients on bath salts were extremely paranoid and prone to wild impulses. One patient drank his own urine. Bath salts have an effect on users similar to methamphetamine and other hallucinogenic drugs. Some users would remain in psychotic states for long stretches of time, because the drugs did not wear off for days.

Synthetic cannabinoids, also known as “Spice” and “K2,” were linked to 11,406 of the 4.9 million drug-related emergency department visits in 2010, according to a report released this week by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Young people were some of the most common consumers of the drugs. People between the ages of 12 and 29 accounted for three out of four emergency room visits involving synthetic marijuana, the administration said. The average age of users of synthetic marijuana who visited emergency departments was 24. By comparison, the average age of users of marijuana who sought emergency medical assistance was 30. Synthetic marijuana is often more potent than regular cannabis.

DeWine said the new law should curb synthetic drug use and distribution. Authorities and emergency rooms saw a decrease in cases involving synthetic drugs after the first bill took effect.