Minnesota lawmakers are looking to tighten regulations on the sale of synthetic drugs.
On Wednesday, Lynn Habhegger told lawmakers that her son, Corey, didn't lose his life to synthetic drugs, but he did lose his mind.
"He went psychotic," she recalled. "He almost lost his life. He had a heart attack in the hospital. His enzymes proved that, and he was in complete renal failure."
Habhegger said Cory Kellis was a "very intelligent boy" who bought a package of bath salts from a head shop in Duluth called The Last Place on Earth when he was 23. Although doctors were able to save his life, they couldn't cure what was done to his mind. Now, he's civilly committed to a psychiatric program.
At the legislative hearing on Wednesday, lawmakers learned about the variety of synthetic drugs available, and many can be found online with ease -- but there's no guarantee of safety.
"The drugs might be contaminated," Attorney General Lori Swanson said. "They might be adulterated. They might be made where they are a public safety and health care menace."
Swanson and Rep. Erik Simonson, chair of the House Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs, introduced a legislative package on Wednesday that is intended to curb the alleged threat of synthetic drugs.
In a release, Rep. Simonson cited synthetic cathinones (bath salts) and synthetic cannabinoids (synthetic marijuana), saying both "have grown increasingly popular in many communities across the state."
A new draft report on synthetic drugs recommends that the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy --responsible for regulating potentially dangerous and illicit drugs and pharmacy conduct -- be granted the power to order businesses to stop selling synthetic drugs.
"When things are available in the store, people think they're safe," Rep. Danny Schoen said. "This is the big piece. We can come into a store and go, 'No, you can't do this.' Before, we were hamstrung."
Simonson made note of a Duluth trauma center that reported 75 synthetic drug overdose patients in the past year -- an estimated cost of $425,000.
Swanson added the regulation of synthetic drugs is like playing "Whac-A-Mole" -- it's very difficult to monitor the ever-changing ingredients.
The committee issued the following recommendations for state action. A bill with the recommendations will be filed during the 2014 legislative session.
1. Expand the ever-changing definition of "drug" in statute to include any substance that induces an effect similar to that of a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance.
2. Allow the Board of Pharmacy to issue cease-and-desist orders to businesses that sell synthetic drugs.
3. Remove the sunset on the Board of Pharmacy's emergency drug scheduling authority.
4. Require the Board of Pharmacy's emergency drug scheduling decisions to be ratified by the Legislature to make the Board's actions final.
5. Train prosecutors in best practices of prosecuting synthetic drug cases.
6. Implement an educational awareness campaign with targeted messages for students on the dangers of synthetic drug use.
7. Regularly review efforts to reduce and prevent all forms of drug abuse by pertinent legislative committees.
8. Pursue further efforts to control online sales of illegal drugs.
On a local level, the committee said communities should adopt drug paraphernalia ordinances -- as it stands, gaps in the law create too many loopholes, further, the open sale of drug paraphernalia makes drug use appear acceptable.
HEADSHOP OWNER CONVICTED
After a lengthy legal battle, a Duluth headshop owner was convicted in October of misbranding and selling illegal synthetic drugs and money laundering. The Last Place on Earth generated $6.5 million from selling the illegal substances, the Star Tribune reported.