Local lawmakers looking to take synthetic drug laws further

By WKTV News

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Local lawmakers and law enforcement are putting their heads together to put the brakes on a problem that's becoming an epidemic in communities across the nation - bath salts.

Federal legislation mimics state legislation put into place earlier this year on synthetic drugs, but it still leaves a big loophole. Every time lawmakers outlaw certain chemicals used in the drugs known as "bath salts," the drug makers come up with a substitution for that chemical, thus keeping them legal and one step ahead of the law.

The fact that there is no test for "bath salts" is also causing a problem for law enforcement.

"It's a business for them," said Senator Joseph Griffo. "There's a guy in Minnesota that is bragging about what the states and government are doing to figure out how they can go around it and tweak it. It's sad to profit at the expense of an individual or a community but its taking place."

Senator Griffo and Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara were joined by other lawmakers Thursday at the State Office Building in Utica, pushing to take the current laws on synthetic drugs a few steps further to stay ahead of the drug makers.

In this new approach, by adding substituted cathinones to the CSA (Controlled Substance Act) based on foundational chemical structures, this loophole of chemical alteration would be closed. Not only will this bill provide criminal sanctions, but also makes it a felony to sell such product to a minor or on school grounds.

Griffo said, “In 2011, I took a strong role to address the issue of these hallucinogenic drugs being sold in New York, and we passed a good law that Governor Cuomo signed last July. However, what we are seeing in recent days is a dramatic upsurge in incidents in which the violent, bizarre behavior of individuals who have confronted the police is being linked to their use of these drugs. As such, I am going to be working with my partners in the Senate, Assembly and Governor’s office to develop and pass legislation that will make the use and sale of this drug a felony, because I believe the response to what we are seeing is to take even stronger measures to protect families and our law enforcement personnel.”

Griffo said that he is extremely grateful for the leadership of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York in pushing through federal legislation that would replication New York’s existing law regarding hallucinogens marketed as bath salts.

“New York was at the leading edge of the introduction of this drug, and I am hopeful that national action to ban the drugs will lead to reduced availability here in New York,” he said. “I am very hopeful that the President will sign this legislation because – as recent incidents here in Central New York have shown – there is a very real danger posed by these drugs. The action taken by Congress to follow our lead and replicate our legislation can only help our efforts here in New York, but I believe that this is an issue that requires even stronger action on our part, and that is why I am already looking at actions here in New York to get even tougher.”

Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara added, “My office will continue to pursue and prosecute anyone caught trying to sell these narcotics because the potential for violence and public harm has increased. In my view, any federal and/or state legislation that grants this office more power to protect the public is welcomed.”

Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol said, “I’m thankful that Senator Schumer is leading the effort at the federal level to combat this public health crisis and I commend Senator Griffo for taking it on here in New York. My colleagues and I in law enforcement support any initiative that gives us the tools to help outlaw the sales and use of these dangerous drugs.”

Griffo’s 2011 bill – sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside), who has indicated he will work with Griffo on the new legislation being developed -- banned the sale, manufacturing possession and distribution of deceptively-labeled, hallucinogenic “bath salts” in New York State. These “bath salts”are a dangerous series of chemicals that cause extreme paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, agitation, hypertension, chest pain, headache, and suicidal thoughts when smoked, snorted or injected. Sold online, in convenience stores, and smoke shops, the dangerous “bath salts” are sold by the names White Rush, Bolivian Bath, Vanilla Sky as well as many others. In New York State, “bath salts” have recently been found at stores near the State Capitol in Albany.

City of Rome Police Department Captain Edward Stevens, representing the Oneida County Law Enforcement Coalition also commented on the efforts, “I would like to commend Senator Griffo for addressing this issue on a legislative level. We have all heard the news stories from across the country where the ingestion of "bath salts" has resulted in violent actions by those under the influence of these synthetic drugs. Last year’s law was a good start in addressing the growing problem, however, the incidents of violence continue. The new legislation being proposed will hopefully close the loop holes that have been used to avoid the criminality of the initial law to include making the possession of the substance illegal. I know that all of my colleagues in law enforcement will continue to educate themselves regarding these dangerous substances and in turn attempt to educate the public through their own individual community policing programs.”

Griffo said, “These so-called ‘bath salts’ are not the same as aromatic bath salts. They contain a potentially lethal mix of synthetic drugs and serve no purpose other than to get the user high. My legislation sought to ban these dangerous substances so we may help keep our young people safe and give our law enforcement the authority to rid our State of these dangerous drugs. What we are finding since the law took effect is that more action is needed because of the incidents taking place across Central New York.”

The Upstate New York Poison Center has received 198 cases of reported incidents related to “bath salts” so far in 2012. Central New York has been particularly hard hit, with Oneida County having 36 cases in 2012, as opposed to 8 in 2011; Onondaga County 35 (9 in 2011); Oswego County 17 Cases (10 in 2011); and Madison County having 15 cases (none in 2011).

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