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Bondi, lawmaker to close loophole in synthetic drug law

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says she feels like she’s in the movie Ground Hog Day. Last year, Bondi successfully fought synthetic drugs, but this year, she is once again pushing to outlaw the substances. Regan McCarthy reports chemists have found loopholes to get the drugs back on the shelf, now lawmakers are working to fix the problem.

No more Mr. Nice Guy – That’s if Attorney General Pam Bondi has her way. She’s fighting to get synthetic drugs often named things like Mr. Nice Guy, Bath Salts, Jazz, and Spice taken off the state’s shelves. Lawmakers outlawed the substances last year, but Bondi says manufacturers have found a way to get around that.

“We have some creative Chemists who I call Criminals.”

Bondi says synthetic drug manufacturers have created new synthetic drug compounds in an effort to skirt the state’s law and she says she has a message for them:

“Guys, chemistry class is over, and we’re going to enroll you in our chemistry class in Florida state prison because that’s where you belong.”

Representative Clay Ingram is sponsoring legislation that would make it a third-degree felony to sell those “new forms” of synthetic drugs. Ingram, a Republican from Pensacola, says synthetic drug abuse is a concern in his area because of use by high school students as well as by young people in the military.

“I found out that not only had the drugs come back on the market, but that they had skillfully been re-engineered and molecules changed and they were legal again. And hopefully, the bill will move quickly and we’ll take these drugs off the market for good.”

This year’s legislation would stack on top of last year’s law adding several new synthetic compounds to the state’s list of controlled illegal substances. So far, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Assistant Commissioner Jim Madden say the law passed last year has worked to crack down on the compounds declared illegal. But Madden says keeping the drugs off the streets will require constant work as new compounds are continually introduced.

“Since July 1st of 2011 almost one-thousand people have been arrested in Florida specifically related to these synthetic drugs. This legislation allows us to be one step ahead of a chemist for a short period of time. We’re going to have to continue fighting this.

Meanwhile officials are calling for help from parents. Director of the Florida Poison Information Center Cynthia Lewis-Younger says a good first step is to pay close attention to what teens are buying. Lewis-Younger says sometimes synthetic drugs are packaged as plant food, cleaners, and bath salts.

“Parents need to be aware. If it doesn’t make sense…if your teen boy is buying bath salts, he’s probably not taking a bath.”

Madden says there’s a misconception that synthetic drugs aren’t as bad as the real thing. But he says that’s not true adding that sometimes they’re even more potent.

“People have chosen to use this drug instead of cocaine, methamphetamine, thinking it’s not harmful, well, that’s not true. People die because of it, have long term physical effects, mental effects, and probably one of the more concerning, because of the age group involved in this usage, we don’t know what the long-term historical effects will be on these users.

Synthetic drugs can cause violent hallucinations, paranoia, psychosis, muscle damage and kidney failure.  Senator Greg Evers is authoring legislation in the Senate aimed at getting rid of the synthetic substances.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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