Price: Texas takes a stand against synthetic drugs
When one of today’s most complicated drug problems manifests itself in horrible ways in our Panhandle community, I believe we must aggressively eradicate it. Synthetic drugs are looming larger as a greater danger to our children and young adults than methamphetamines, heroin or marijuana.
Packaged in shiny wrappers like candy, synthetic drugs are sold over the counter where our children are buying them to get high. Sadly, these drugs are legal and they are often manufactured overseas by companies that have no interest in our children, our communities or the dangerous side effects that they produce.
Parents, law enforcement and health officials from our community asked state lawmakers for our help to fight the spread and use of these pervasive drugs. I felt compelled to work with them after hearing how dangerous these drugs are, how easily anyone can buy them and how many problems synthetic drugs cause for public health and law enforcement officials. I authored House Bill 1212, which Governor Abbott signed into law and took effect on September 1st. It is known as the “Montana Brown and Jesse High Act”. Texas law enforcement and public health officials now have a new way to take the most dangerous synthetic drugs out of stores and to keep them from coming back.
In case you haven’t heard, synthetic drugs are a widespread and dangerous problem. They are available over the counter in smoke shops for $10 or less. As you can imagine, a $10 high from an over-the-counter product is all too tempting to our youth, and it can be deadly.
This point is worth underscoring - synthetic drugs are complex chemical compounds with ingredients that are often hazardous. They do lead to severe health effects and are causing deaths. The drugs promise to induce a high similar to hard, illegal drugs. But the packaging provides no information or warnings about how the drug might affect you. Public health officials analyzing synthetic drugs have found them laced with rat poison, antifreeze, paint thinner, and fertilizers.
The reason law enforcement and health officials asked state lawmakers to provide them with stronger measures is that state and federal regulations have been unable to keep up with the dangerous ingredients in these products.
Federal and state regulations have a list of banned substances that cannot be packaged and sold over the counter in stores. However, these regulations cannot be updated quickly enough to address a deadly synthetic drug that needs to be taken out of circulation. Too often, we don’t know which products are dangerous until someone unwittingly overdoses or dies from taking it.
Before we passed these new regulations in Texas, law enforcement and public health officials were caught in a cycle that begins with a death or overdose due to synthetic drugs.
The “cycle of catch up” works like this. After a death or illness is attributed to a synthetic drug, regulators look at the product. When necessary, they ban some of the ingredients. However, to work around regulations, the synthetic drug manufacturers simply tweak their recipes to remove the banned ingredient. It’s now legal and back in stores, usually with a new name and a new package. Simply banning a product by name, or even banning an ingredient would really never solve the public health crisis. Without better tools, this cycle may never stop. Being a step behind the synthetic drug manufacturers means we cannot protect ourselves.
With the passage of HB 1212 , Texas law enforcement and health officials can emergency schedule a harmful ingredient in a synthetic drug. Once the ingredient is emergency scheduled, it becomes a controlled substance. Now, that gives law enforcement authorities the ability to remove dangerous and harmful products from stores. For example, if they deem that a synthetic drug is an imminent harm to public safety, officials can go into stores and remove it. Further, law enforcement can arrest merchants selling the “controlled substance” product to keep the public safe.
This authority to emergency schedule a substance or an entire product and remove it is absolutely necessary to protect the public. Synthetic drug manufactures are wily. They purposefully skirt our laws and regulations, and public health advocates told lawmakers too many stories about children, teens and young adults dying or ruining their health through the use of such drugs. We heard from Laviza Matthews of Amarillo. Matthews started an organization named Impact Futures, and she is a tenacious advocate in the Panhandle to fight the spread of synthetic drug use. I am grateful Matthews and the parents of Panhandle teens who died met with state lawmakers to bring attention to this issue. The result of their efforts has given law enforcement the ability to get dangerous synthetic drugs out of stores and out of the hands of vulnerable, unsuspecting buyers.
When a teen walks into a shop and buys something over the counter, they don’t believe it can be dangerous or deadly. And when it’s wrapped like a harmless product, it’s even harder to convince them that it’s truly dangerous. For these reasons, we have now regulated synthetic drugs more strongly empowering law enforcement and public health officials so that they can take actions that protect us from an imminent hazard to our public safety.