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Editorial: ‘Bath salts’ bill critical to halt synthetic drug loopholes

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Members of the Indiana House of Representatives should be very familiar with a Senate bill that reached their desks last week. The bill would make it illegal to possess or deal “lookalike” synthetic drugs.

Current law only prohibits drugs with specific chemical makeups. In addition, it would require the state to suspend the business license for a year of any retailer caught selling synthetic drugs or lookalikes. Other provisions would expand the ability of prosecutors to file charges against those driving under the influence of synthetic drugs.

The bill should be familiar to House members because it is “nearly identical” to a measure they had passed by unanimous vote earlier and sent to the Senate. Author of the House legislation was Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus.

Smith is well versed on the subject of these synthetic drugs. He wrote House Bill 1196 in the last legislative session that banned the sale of synthetic drugs such as spice.

 The drugs, which can be as addictive as marijuana and other illegal substances, were freely marketed on the Internet and in convenience stores and other businesses. They had been available at a number of local businesses.

The 2012 legislation did have an effect. Local police, for instance, conducted periodic checks to make sure stores were not selling the drugs but did not make any arrests, leading them to believe that outlets such as convenience stores were in compliance.

Schools also noted a positive outcome since the law was enacted, according to Larry Perkinson, student assistance coordinator for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., who noted that educators had not reported any substance abuse violations relating to spice, or heard any mention of it in the schools.

Smith was recognized for his efforts on behalf of the original legislation. The Indiana Addictions Issues Coalition presented him with its 2012 Legislative Advocacy Award for his work.

Unfortunately some manufacturers and dealers of synthetic drugs have managed to keep one step ahead of the legal system. Although the 2012 law authored by Smith did have an effect, police have sometimes been in a quandary related to identifying substances.

The Indiana Poison Center received more than 400 calls about exposure to bath salts last year. In 2010, the poison center received 303 calls about exposure to the substance.

Bath salts took off in 2011, with the greatest number of calls coming in May and June last year.

Smith’s latest proposal was meant to ban more chemicals used in producing synthetic drugs and closing loopholes in earlier legislation by prohibiting molecular changes to base compounds in the synthetic drugs.

Going after the retailers of these dangerous compounds is an effective tactic in this battle, especially when combined with public education efforts designed to warn teenagers of the dangers.

This latest effort is a step forward in dealing with the growing dangers of drug abuse and should get speedy final approval and the signature of Gov. Mike Pence.

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