Citing examples of harrowing reports of people committing bizarre, violent acts while high on a designer drug sold as 'bath salts', Gov. Tom Corbett on June 23, 2011 signed into law a bill barring the manufacture and sale of the substance, as well as other synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana.
But it didn't take long for "street chemists" to tweak their formulae to continue making the drugs with compounds that were perfectly legal.
Now, a state representative from Blair County has introduced a bill, co-sponsored by state Rep. Doyle Heffley, that outlaw new compounds that are being used as an end run around the 2011 legislation.
State Rep. Jerry Stern (R-Blair) introduced HB 1217, which passed the House on Wednesday. The proposed bill amends the 1972 Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act to encompass the new formulations manufacturers are using to make synthetic marijuana, bath salts and other drugs.
The bill, crafted with the help of state police, includes language from the federal Controlled Substance Act to enhance its effectiveness in allowing law enforcement to keep up with the constant changing of chemical compounds by illegal drug manufacturers to skirt the law.
"The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act has been amended numerous times to keep up with the availability of new illicit drugs that constantly enter the market. It seems that no sooner is a compound outlawed that new compounds appear. This problem is particularly true in the area of prohibited 'bath salts' and synthetic marijuana. Additionally, the current language on the Controlled Substance act with regard to bath salts and synthetic marijuana has resulted in debate among chemists about what compounds found on the street are and are not included in the list of Schedule I banned substances," Stern wrote in an April 9 memorandum to fellow lawmakers."To remedy these issues, I and house staff have worked with the Pennsylvania State Police laboratory and other experts. PSP has recommended changes which clarify the list of prohibited substances while incorporating language from the Federal Controlled Substance Act that will better address the law's ability to keep up with the small permutations in chemical formulas that home grown chemists readily produce to beat the system," he wrote.
The legislation is needed, Heffley said.
"These synthetic drugs have the same dangerous effects that methamphetamine has, but they are readily and easily available and legal. Simply put, these are very dangerous drugs that serve no purpose," Heffley said. "Putting these types of synthetic substances out there gives people, especially our youth, the false impression that they are safe; however, they are very dangerous and we do not know what the long-term effects are."
The 2011 law was prompted by increasing numbers of reports of people committing violent acts after ingesting bath salts. The drug, which has nothing to do with the fragrant powders meant to be used in a relaxing tub of warm water, triggered bizarre behaviors.
On March 24, 2011, John Eremus, 46, of Nesquehoning, held police at bay for two hours with a high-powered rifle after ingesting bath salts. In Scranton, 25-year-old Ryan Foley allegedly broke into a monastery and stabbed a priest in the hand and the face after using the drug.