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Onondaga County DA Joins Katko In Announcing Push To Crack Down On Synthetic Drugs

Victor Orlando Woolson

Victor Orlando Woolson

SYRACUSE, NY – U.S. Representative John Katko (NY-24) was joined Monday (Dec. 14), by Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick, as well as local law enforcement, healthcare and treatment service providers, and prevention advocates, in announcing that he has introduced bipartisan legislation, H.R. 4229, the Protecting Our Youth from Dangerous Synthetic Drugs Act, which would make it easier to prosecute the sale and distribution of synthetic drugs.

Teresa Woolson, president of the VOW Foundation
Teresa Woolson, president of the VOW Foundation

Central New York has seen a stark increase in the distribution and use of synthetic drugs, especially in our youth. While Congress took action in 2012 to outlaw several synthetic drugs, manufacturers and distributors of these substances are able to slightly alter the chemical structure of drugs to circumvent this law and avoid law enforcement scrutiny and prosecution. Current laws are not keeping up with the producers of these poisonous substances, and consequently, substances designed to mimic the effects of LSD, Ecstasy, cocaine, marijuana, and other hard drugs are sold openly at convenience stores, gas stations, head shops and other outlets, and giving some users the assumption that they are not as dangerous as other, illegal substances.

Representative Katko, who served as an organized crime and drug prosecutor for over twenty years, said, “As a federal prosecutor, I saw first-hand the dangerous impact of synthetic drug use on individuals and families in our community. That’s why, as Central New York’s Representative in Congress, I’ve committed to working with local law enforcement, healthcare providers, and community advocates to raise awareness of the dangerous effects of these drugs. This legislation will help this effort by giving law enforcement and prosecutors the flexibility that they need to crack down on the manufacturers and sellers of these substances.”

Katko and Fitzpatrick, both critically aware of this troubling epidemic, have committed to partnering on a state and federal level to address the problem in both in a legislative and prosecutorial manner.

Onondaga County District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick said, “The scourge of synthetic drugs has destroyed lives in communities across the country, including ours. Responding to the waves of this poison inundating central New York over the last several years has been particularly challenging for law enforcement and local governments. During that time, I have advocated for federal laws to adequately address those challenges. It took someone with John Katko’s background and experience to understand the deadly nature of this problem. He listened and as he has already shown in his short time in Congress, he acted. This legislation is smart, timely, and badly needed. I applaud the efforts of Congressman Katko and I urge his colleagues in Congress act swiftly.”

Specifically, the Protecting Our Youth from Dangerous Synthetic Drugs Act would:

Establish an inter-agency committee of experts, headed by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which would be responsible for establishing and maintaining an administrative list of synthetic drugs or controlled substance analogues. The committee would be structured so that it could respond quickly and robustly to the threat.

Prevent the importation of synthetic drugs unless they have express approval to do so.

Direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review, and if appropriate, amend the federal sentencing guidelines.

Dr. Indu Gupta, MD,MPH,MA,FACP, Onondaga County Health Department Commissioner said, “Increasing use of synthetic cannabinoids can result in serious health consequences from bizarre behavior, paranoia, seizures, kidney failure, heart injury including death.  Frequent changes in the chemical structure of these products pose challenges to health care providers, public health, and law enforcement officials alike.  This is a serious public health threat and requires a joint approach from all of us to combat it. ”

Oswego’s Teresa Woolson, president of the VOW Foundation — an organization named in honor of her son, Victor, who died from a fatal reaction to synthetic marijuana – said, “There is a new type of drug dealer, the entrepreneur. I applaud Congressman Katko for continuing to tackle this health crisis.”

Onondaga County Sheriff Eugene Conway said, “This drug is pervasive throughout all of Onondaga County and its makeup and resulting behavior by those who use it is deadly.  The Sheriff’s Office is committed to ending its being available.”

“Synthetics are taking lives in our community. As the region’s leader in treatment services, Crouse Hospital applauds Congressman Katko’s proposed federal legislation that aims to stop the manufacturing and sale of these substances,” said Monika Taylor, director of Behavioral Health for Crouse Hospital.

Dr. Louise Prince, MD, FACEP, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University said, “The creation and availability of synthetic drugs has rapidly increased causing widespread use, abuse, and addiction.  This has put a tremendous stress on our health care delivery system affecting all of our patients due to the resources required to treat this epidemic.  Measures to decrease the availability of these drugs are urgently needed to preserve the emergency medical system’s ability to care for all patients.”

Melissa Carr, AEMT-CC, APIO, M.A., Market Development Manager for Rural/Metro said, “Rural/Metro supports the collaborative efforts of the Central New York community in addressing the ongoing epidemic of synthetic drug use. Rep. Katko’s proposed legislation is an important element in the overall response to eliminate this problem.”

“Prevention Network commends Congressman Katko for his imperative attention to the synthetic drug epidemic in Onondaga County.  From a prevention perspective, legislation such as The Protecting Our Youth from Dangerous Synthetic Drugs Act is exactly the type of strategy that needs to be implemented,” said Beth E. Hurny, LMSW, CASAC, Executive Director of the Prevention Network.

Representative Katko was joined by Rep. David Cicilline (RI-1) in introducing the bill.  Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY-25) has also joined as a co-sponsor on this legislation.

This bill is the House companion to a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Diane Feinstein (CA) and Rob Portman (OH).