A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
Earlier this month, it was reported that more than 130 people overdosed on K2, a synthetic drug, in New York City.
The surge of overdoses occurred primarily in Brooklyn where it was reported that people were openly smoking the drug.
Emergency responders and eye witnesses stated people were lying on the sidewalks and leaning up against trees and shaking due to the effects from the drugs.
While the news media hasn’t reported an outbreak of this magnitude in some time, synthetic drugs are clearly still an underlying problem in communities across the state.
It was just last year, that the New York Times Magazine dubbed Syracuse as Spike Nation.
In the article, it examined how the rampant use of these drugs are tearing at the fabric of our communities with the same brutality as heroin or cocaine.
Unfortunately, the punishment for selling synthetics does not fit the crime and because of that, communities continue to see surges in users and overdoses.
According to the Upstate Poison Control Center, the number of hospital cases related to synthetic drugs in 2015 was 509 visits, up from 123 cases in 2014.
While these drugs are often marketed as an alternative to marijuana, the truth is synthetic cannabinoids or synthetic drugs are much more dangerous.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that synthetic cannabinoids can be 100 times more potent than THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana and can cause dangerous spikes in blood pressure, cause users to have violent outbursts, suicidal thoughts, and hallucinations.
Synthetic drugs are often are often labeled “not for human consumption” or emphasized as packages of “natural” material derived from plants.
Quite frankly, there is nothing natural about synthetic drugs.
Those that manufacture these products spray the chemical compounds onto the plant materials.
Although it is intended to be smoked or ingested, the products are purposely mislabeled as incense or potpourri in order to skirt laws.
Even worse, they’re marketed in shiny packages and target our youth.
We need to do more to increase penalties for those who sell synthetic drugs.
K2, which is banned by the New York State Department of Health, is one of the several synthetic drugs that is plaguing New York City, Central New York and other parts of the state.
Because the Department of Health’s ban does not go far enough to penalize selling synthetic drugs, it has left local communities and law enforcement grappling with increased synthetic drug use and health and safety issue.
If we want to get synthetics off of our streets, we need harsher criminal penalties to levy against traffickers and those who sell them in stores.
Outlawing synthetic drugs has been a challenge because New York and the Federal Government outlaw drugs based on their chemical compounds.
Because they are synthetic, manufacturers have been able to slightly change their chemical composition so they are no longer on the state’s controlled-substance list, and therefore, no longer illegal.
In addition, synthetic drugs are often mislabeled and sold as products other than drugs (i.e., bath salts, shoe deodorant and incense.)
However, the seller and the purchaser realize that the intended use of the synthetic drug is to provide a high for the user.
My legislation addresses mislabeling, chemical swapping, and creates penalties for possessing and selling synthetic drugs.
The bill contains two key provisions: (i) broader power is given to the Commissioner of Health to add synthetic drugs and their chemical compounds to the controlled-substance list, rather than having the legislature act to add to the controlled-substance list; and (ii) stores will be penalized for selling mislabeled products when they are clearly intended to be used as drugs.
Senator Patty Ritchie is the prime sponsor of this legislation in the State Senate.
For reasons unknown, the real roadblock to this issue has been that some Assembly Democrats in the State Assembly have continually blocked legislation criminalizing the sale of synthetic drugs.
With the latest outbreak of overdoses in New York City it is time for the Assembly Democrats to join their NYC brethren in recognizing the dangers of synthetic drugs and to stop blocking legislation that will protect not only the citizens of the NYC but all citizens of New York state from the evils of these drugs.
If you have any questions or comments or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.