Experts advise Legislature on synthetic drug problems

A select committee will discuss its recommendations in December.

Nathaniel Rabuzzi

Minnesota legislators continued ongoing discussions about synthetic drug use in the state at a meeting Wednesday, hearing expert testimony on the use and sale of the drugs.

The experts’ presentations focused on the difficulty of tracking where the drugs originate, how to prosecute offenders and methods of preventing use.

Synthetic drugs are federally outlawed and treated like their drug equivalents, if prosecutors can prove they have similar chemistry and effects.

Young people tend to be attracted to synthetic drugs, especially synthetic forms of marijuana, because they’re cheap, easy to access and seem safe, said Kristin Engebretsen, a clinical toxicologist at Regions Hospital and a
University of Minnesota adjunct associate professor.

“They seem falsely informed that it is safe,” she said at the meeting. “Some of it is just being made in kids’ apartments, in back garages.”

Some experts, including Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Superintendent Wade Setter, said synthetic drugs can be difficult to track because they’re available for purchase online.

“When you have somebody ordering over the
Internet, getting it delivered to their house, there’s virtually no opportunity for [police] interdiction,” he said at the meeting.

When attempting to prosecute synthetic drug offenses, using standard lists of controlled substances doesn’t work because synthetics change formulas quickly and lawmakers can’t keep pace, said Carol Falkowski, founder and CEO of Drug Abuse Dialogues, a Minnesota-based company that offers educational workshops on drug abuse.

“You can’t outlaw what doesn’t exist yet,” she said at the meeting.

Adam Peterson, Prevention Manager at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, an addiction prevention and recovery organization, spoke about education and
prevention initiatives during the meeting.

He said parents and educators need to be involved in the education and prevention processes and that legislation should involve those groups.

Discouraging synthetic drug use can also come from changes in wording, said Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, cautioning committee members against using the phrase “synthetic marijuana” because it could make the drugs appear safe.

“Marijuana does have a different designation in people’s mind than what this is,” he said to the committee members.

The select committee’s chairman, Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, said there may not be a complete solution to the synthetic drug problem, though “we can maybe take bites out of it.”

The Legislature’s Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs formed this summer and will meet again in December to discuss the experts’ recommendations and create a report for how to address synthetic drug issues when the 2014 legislative session begins in February.