Local and national authorities are playing catch-up with synthetic drug makers, who are constantly changing the chemical makeup of their products to avoid breaking the law.
Enforcing laws against these synthetic drugs is difficult, according to the Star Tribune.
At a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lab in Virginia, chemist Arthur Berrier began studying synthetic drugs in 2007. He discovered packets, being sold as incense at record shops and convenience stores, contained synthetic compounds that produce a reaction similar to the active ingredient in marijuana.
In 2010, agents in Chicago seized a shipment of 1,000 grams of a substance used to make synthetic marijuana. The agents had to release the shipment, because the chemical was legal at the time. Later that year, the DEA banned the substance, JWH-018, and four other chemicals. Synthetic drug makers quickly began using other chemicals instead.
The DEA lab, which is heavily guarded, is bringing in forensic chemists from around the country to train them in new testing protocols for synthetic drugs.
Currently, 43 states have passed or proposed laws banning specific chemicals in synthetic drugs, the article notes. Some states are trying to get around the problem of constantly changing drug ingredients by passing broad laws that outlaw substances that mimic illicit drugs, without identifying specific chemicals. Prosecuting synthetic drug makers under these laws is difficult, however. Prosecutors must show these substances are chemically similar to illicit drugs, and must demonstrate the synthetic drugs have the same effect on the body. They also must prove the synthetic drugs are meant to be taken in the same way as illegal drugs, even though the products often have labels stating that they are not for human consumption.