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Synthetic Legislation Closes Legal Loopholes

Assemblyman Will Barclay was joined Wednesday (March 4) by fellow lawmakers from the state Senate and Assembly and Upstate Poison Control officials at a press conference to ban synthetic drugs.

From left are Assemblyman Gary Finch, Sen. Patty Ritchie, Assemblyman Barclay, Teresa Woolson, Bonnie Caza (Woolson's sister) and Woolson's daughter, Sarah Gauger.
From left are Assemblyman Gary Finch, Sen. Patty Ritchie, Assemblyman Barclay, Teresa Woolson, Bonnie Caza (Woolson’s sister) and Woolson’s daughter, Sarah Gauger.

Joining these officials at the press conference was Teresa Woolson and her family, who are advocating for stronger laws regarding synthetic drug use. In 2012, Woolson’s son, Victor, died from injuries related to synthetic drug use.

Banning synthetic drugs has been a challenge because New York and the Federal Government outlaw drugs based on their chemical compounds.

Because these drugs 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.

The legislation announced today addresses mislabeling, chemical swapping and creates penalties for possessing and selling synthetic drugs equivalent to their “street drug” counterpart.

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.

In addition, pursuant to this legislation, if a person believes that a store is selling synthetic drugs, they can file a complaint with the Attorney General. Based on evidence, the Attorney General can act and make an application to the court requesting a special procedure, to issue an injunction to stop selling the product.

If it is determined by the court that the store violated the law of mislabeling synthetic drug for a minor to purchase, those individuals could be charged with a felony.

“Many individuals may not know about synthetic drugs and it is important that all New Yorkers, especially parents, are aware of the dangers of these substances and how easy it is to obtain them,” said Barclay. “There are many mislabeled products that, sold legally, have the same side effects, or worse, than their illegal counterparts. By expanding the Department of Health Commissioner’s powers to add these substances to the controlled substance list, action can be taken immediately to put these dangerous items on the banned substances list, eliminating the need for the Legislature to revisit this issue each time a new chemical compound is introduced. This is a proactive approach to address this serious issue and I urge my colleagues to act on my legislation this year.”

“Synthetic drugs like bath salts and synthetic marijuana present a real problem to the health and safety of people both across our nation and right here in our region,” said State Senator Patty Ritchie, who sponsors the legislation in the Senate. “This legislation helps us to take the next step when it comes to putting an end to the use of these dangerous substances that as we’ve seen, have the potential to cause violence, crime and even death.”

“The abuse of synthetic drugs, such as bath salts, in our community needs immediate attention,” said Senator John A. DeFrancisco. “Despite various state and federal regulations to combat the sale and use of these dangerous products, synthetic drug manufacturers have been successful in circumventing the law.  We need to take action to implement stricter penalties, stop the abuse, and hopefully prevent future tragedies from occurring.”

Assemblyman Bob Oaks said the push for change in the law to end easy access to dangerous synthetic drugs must continue until people can no longer obtain them at all.

“We’ve banned the products from retail stores, but that’s not enough. Now, we need to urge the rest of our colleagues and leaders in Albany to take this important issue up once again. We need to prevent our youth from obtaining these drugs underground, while at the same time, imposing harsh penalties for those who continue to sell these substances,” said Oaks.

Teresa Woolson’s 19-year-old son, Victor, drowned in Lake Ontario in 2012 after smoking “K-2 Avalanche,” a form of synthetic marijuana. He purchased the drugs after the state and federal ban.

Since then, she has been steadfast in her efforts to eliminate synthetic drugs from the marketplace and protect other families from the same tragedy that befell her and her family.

“I came to Albany today to help prevent another family feeling the pain and destruction these poisons can cause. This legislation, when passed, will help us stay one step ahead of the criminals and help keep these poisons off store shelves, ultimately saving lives. I want to thank everyone here in attendance for your concern about this important issue,” Woolson said.

“The Upstate New York Poison Control Center saw a significant increase in cases of synthetic drug abuse in 2012 and we continued to see numerous cases in 2013. So often the abusers of these agents do not realize or anticipate the intensity of symptoms that are produced from these drugs. We are seeing cases of extreme agitation, increase in body temperature, violent behavior, hallucinations and paranoia which, for some people, last days,” said Michele Caliva, Administrative Director of the Upstate New York Poison Control Center.

“The scariest thing about these drugs is people don’t know what’s in it. The compounds keep changing and the packaging is designed to be attractive even to young children. Some packages even have statements that the product is legal, but don’t list the actual ingredients,” said Lee Livermore, Public Education Coordinator for the Upstate New York Poison Control Center.