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Editorial: Persistence needed to counteract risks of synthetic drugs

Feb. 20, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Legislation alone apparently won't keep dangerous synthetic drugs out of circulation.

That was demonstrated last week by a police raid at a novelties shop in Ashland, Ky. The city's police department said it confiscated, among other things, an estimated $13,000 worth of what its officers believed were illegal synthetic drugs.

The police action came after reports from the community. "Parents and school personnel, among others, were telling us students were buying the synthetic drugs and getting sick or getting high," Ashland Police Lt. Darren Wilson said.

That's the inherent dangers of synthetic drugs, which have properties and effects similar to known hallucinogens or narcotics. But these drugs have altered chemical makeups, with the intent of the makers to skirt laws against the real counterparts of these artificial concoctions. The production of these substitutes is unregulated, and they pose substantial risk to users with serious and sometimes fatal side effects, including psychotic episodes. That may sound much like the decades-old "scare" films intended to discourage use of marijuana and hallucinogens, but experts say the potential dangers are all too real.

Notice that the Ashland officers said they "believed" the materials they seized were illegal synthetic drugs. That alludes to one of the continuing problems in trying to combat them. Kentucky, other states and the federal government have passed laws making synthetic drugs illegal, but manufacturers of them continually alter the chemical structure of their goods in hopes of evading such laws.

That's why testing of suspected synthetic drugs is a necessary step in determining whether they are indeed illegal. It also is why lawmakers and law enforcement agencies must remain vigilant in keeping up with this ever-changing supply of materials that pose a serious danger to the public.

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