Synthetic DrugsMADISONVILLE, KY (9/24/12) – On April 11 of this year, Kentucky legislators passed House Bill 481, which outlawed the sale and possession of synthetic drugs in the state. In addition, the law declared a state of emergency in Kentucky, claiming that synthetics “… pose a clear and present danger to the citizens of the Commonwealth ….”

Trafficking in synthetics now constitutes a misdemeanor crime for a first offense and a Class D felony for subsequent offenses. Possession of synthetics is a Class B misdemeanor.

Manufacturers of these substances had previously skirted similar statutes by slightly altering the chemical makeup of the synthetics, circumventing the specific language of those laws; however, the new, sweeping bill defines the banned substances as any chemical that mimics the effects of a previously banned drug.

SurfKY News spoke with Madisonville Police Department’s Lieutenant Jason Mitchell today in order to update readers as to the prevalence of synthetics in the community and to find out exactly what effect HB481 has had on the illicit market for the drugs.

Mitchell said that the sale and possession of synthetics locally has been reduced tremendously. He said that two local offending businesses ended up closing as a result of the sale-suppression efforts.

“We really don’t see it very much at all,” said Mitchell. “We’re still doing some buys. I’m not saying that it’s not here in town, because it is. But, it’s not even remotely close to what it was.”

In contrast to several months ago when the substances could be purchased at gas stations and convenience stores, police are now focused on under-the-table, controlled buys on the streets as with other drugs such as marijuana or methamphetamines. His comments echoed those of MPD Chief Wade Williams who characterized sales of synthetics now as “clandestine.”

Mitchell said that he has been in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), putting together some statistics on the prevalence of synthetics on a national level for an upcoming report in October. The CDC has reported that calls to their office concerning synthetics have been reduced by half, according to Mitchell. Preliminary results from similar studies at a local level have yet to be released, but Mitchell said “I can tell you just by looking at them … it’s gone down by at least half.”

Mitchell was clear, however, that local distributers are still actively selling the substances within the community. Buyers are obtaining the drugs both through first-hand internet purchases and through second-hand transactions with sellers, who are obtaining the drugs online as well.

“All of the controlled buys that we have done have originated from internet purchases. That’s where their sources are coming from.”

A positive indicator of the effectiveness of HB481 has been the near disappearance of “bath salts” in the community. These especially potent and dangerous synthetics mimic the effects of methamphetamines and are unrelated to legitimate products such as Epsom salt. As with synthetic cannabinoids, which mimic the effects of marijuana, the dosages of the psychoactive chemicals in bath salts vary from product to product, and users never know how much of or even which exact substances are contained within.

“We have not seen bath salts—again, I’m not saying it’s not out there, because it is—but we have not seen them since HB481 [was passed],” said Mitchell. “Patrol has seen one or two cases of it, but the majority … is synthetic cannabinoids.” Synthetic cannabinoids (or synthetic marijuana) go by the street names of K2, G6, Spice, Smoke, Buzz, or pot-pourri among many others.

Mitchell said that he gives praise where it is due and that HB481 has been central to the decline of synthetics in Kentucky.

“There’s still not a total federal ban on something that mimics a controlled substance like Kentucky has done … that’s why we’re able to encompass all synthetics, whether it be a bath salt or a synthetic cannabinoid. HB481 has been a tremendous help for us.”

Casey Piscitelli
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