Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is pushing for legislation that would ban 22 chemicals used for making synthetic drugs. The Upstate New York Poison Center reported 500 cases involving synthetic marijuana and similar drugs in 2015. The majority of those cases occurred in Onondaga County which also had six deaths in 2015 linked to synthetic drugs.
Onondaga County Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta said some of the side effects include increased heart rate, respiratory failure, paranoia and bizarre behavior.
"They are changing the chemical structure so frequently it becomes a very difficult challenge,” Gupta said. “People end up in ICU and also end up resulting in loss of life."
The challenge being it is more difficult to treat. Gupta said there is no antidote like Narcan which is used on heroin overdoses. Michelle Caliva from the Upstate New York Poison Center said they were shocked to see people with respiratory depression and severely slow heart rates which were not typical of synthetic drugs.
"We were stumped," Caliva said. "If you asked them what they took they all said 'Spike' or 'Spice.' They were buying the same product but having completely different symptoms."
It is also a challenge for law enforcement to go after the corner stores selling a legal yet dangerous product.
Schumer’s proposed ban includes the drugs “K2” and “Spice.” The synthetic drugs get manufactured in China and the ban would allow the U.S. to go after Chinese importers. Schumer said the ban has bipartisan support and should pass in the fall.
“That we can get done in a month and then we also want to change the law, that’s harder, to give the DEA broad powers so we don’t have to keep passing legislation,” Schumer said.
Schumer said he supports giving the Drug Enforcement Agency fast track powers to ban substances.
Law enforcement attributed the location of central New York, being in the middle of the state with accessibility to New York City, as one factor why the area has become such a target for synthetic drugs.