Drug Enforcement Officials: Existing laws fail to control synthetic drug use
El Paso, TX (KTSM) — On the heels of a Senate hearing in Washington D.C. about the rising use of synthetic drugs across the United States, local investigators are expanding who they are targeting, criminally.
Detective Robert Horstman with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office has worked on operations with the Drug Enforcement Agency that target the sale of synthetic drugs.
"We've had overdose cases here in El Paso where kids have ended up in the hospital, have almost died because they've ingested this substance," said Horstman.
Horstman said synthetic drugs have been around for about 10 to 15 years, but have become a growing problem since a 2011 ban on some of the chemicals known to be in the drugs.
Leaders in Washington are taking notice.
"Today we have identified approximately 200 different synthetic drugs that are taking their toll on America," said Joseph Rannazzisi, DEA Deputy Assistant Administrator at the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control hearing Wednesday.
At the heart of the talks is the trouble with the law. Existing laws fail to control synthetic drug use because of chemistry.
"They'll start with one chemical and once we identify that and say, 'Yes, this is an illegal compound,' they change the molecular structure to make it a different compound," said Horstman.
Horstman said previous operations targeted manufacturers and the shops that sell spice, bath salts and other synthetic drugs.
"I equate to nothing different than a drug dealer, but these people have a store and keep their money in a cash register," he said.
He also said law enforcement officials will begin targeting people who are buying synthetic drugs as well.
"For me to believe that the consumer doesn't know that it's illegal, or doesn't know what they're using it for, that's very hard to believe," Horstman said.
Horstman said possession of illegal synthetic drugs is a felony offense similar to possession of cocaine.