Congressman John Katko is pushing legislation that would allow agents to remove synthetic drugs from stores more quickly.
Current laws can delay the process for years, even in cases where the chemicals are deadly.
“Just a few weeks back, we saw a record surge of overdoses in Syracuse,” Rep. Katko said while announcing the details of his measure, dubbed the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act.
As emergency rooms are inundated with overdose patients, it’s a reminder of the day synthetic marijuana nearly killed Meggan Gauger’s friend in Oswego County.
“Their heart stopped and I had to call 911,” she remembers. “They were rushed to the hospital, having convulsions, speaking in the third-person when they came to. Very traumatic.”
Gauger says, at the time, that toxic mix of chemicals was bought legally.
“They are sold openly at convenience stores, gas stations, head shops, and other outlets,” Rep. Katko explained.
The synthetic drugs are designed to skirt the law. The ingredients are always changing before the government has time to study and add them to a list of controlled substances.
When Victor Woolson died after using a synthetic drug five years ago , his mom led the charge to make it illegal.
“It took four years. It took until May 11, 2016 for that drug to be added to the controlled substances list,” explained Teresa Woolson. “That is not acceptable.”
Rep. Katko says his legislation would allow the Attorney General to temporarily add chemicals to the list in 30 days, with a chance it will permanently added eventually.
“Knowing that it’s a controlled substance or a controlled substance analogue, you can go into head shops, you can go into stores and say this is now illegal and we’re taking it off your shelves right now,” he added.
The ever-changing chemical compounds are often produced overseas in countries like China.
Until they are permanently added to a list of controlled substances by the government, the hands of investigators are tied, right down to the local level.
“We can only go so far in making the arrest,” explains Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler. “We’re limited in what we can charge this person with.”
Limits that are sending more people to those already inundated emergency rooms.
“All it takes is one time,” Gaugger adds. “One time to kill you, not one time to get addicted, one time to kill you.”
Rep. Katko says he’s confident his proposal has enough support to move forward in Congress.
Here’s how his office explains the changes outlined in the SITSA measure:
- Modernizes the Controlled Substances Act by adding Schedule A to the existing 5 schedules. It provides a mechanism by which synthetic analogues can be temporarily or permanently added to the Schedule A by the Attorney General. This will allow scientific and research communities to develop information on these newly-invented substances.
- Adds 13 synthetic fentanyls, which have been identified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as an immediate threat to public health, to Schedule A. These substances have been confirmed as the cause of death in at least 162 cases in the U.S., with several more suspected.
- Specifically omits federal simple possession of a synthetic drug from the reach of the bill.
- Provides a streamlined approach for sentencing synthetic drug trafficking in federal courts.
- Adds to current law an offense for false labeling of controlled substance analogues.