People who are trying to fight the abuse of synthetic drugs need a centralized, national source that collects information about the latest substances, analyzes it and quickly disseminates early alerts, according to a group of experts trying to stay one step ahead of these ever-changing products.
Several sources of information exist, such as poison control centers, the Drug Abuse Warning Network and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), according to Sherry Green, the CEO of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws (NAMSDL). The group organized a recent meeting of health officials, law enforcement, doctors, state drug directors and others trying to stop the spread of synthetic drugs.
“The DEA uses a system to gather information from sources about where substances are being used, but it is limited to controlled substances—so if they’re not being controlled or banned yet, the DEA isn’t getting reports about them,” she said. “There’s no one central place that draws on all these sources. We need to gather information from these sources, quickly analyze it and get it back out to people who need it—ER doctors, public health officials and administrators of schools—so they can act.”
Many states have enacted laws banning synthetic drugs, but most ban specific chemical combinations, and drug makers evade these laws by slightly modifying the formula, Green says. “States find they have to play catch-up,” she added. Several states, including Idaho, are trying a different approach, by banning a general class of substances, and then giving specific examples of substances within that class. “If something else in that class is created after the law takes effect, it would already be banned,” she explains. “We’ll be following the success of these statutes, and if they work, we’ll be recommending this type of legislation to other states.”
While there is federal legislation that bans synthetic drugs, signed in 2012, Green said states don’t want to wait for the long process of scheduling and controlling new substances, which can take 18 months or longer. “They want to look at procedures on the state level so they can control new substances on a much more expedited basis,” she said. NAMSDL is also hoping to learn from the experience of Canada and European countries that have passed laws to ban synthetic drugs, also known as novel psychoactive substances.
In addition to new legislation, the group advocated for a much stronger education and prevention campaign. “People need better information about novel psychoactive substances,” Green says. “Everyone from parents to school administrators to ER physicians need better education about what these substances do.” A number of groups, including the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the National Association of Chiefs of Police, agreed there needs to be a coordinated effort on education. NAMSDL is working with the Office of National Drug Control Policy and other federal partners to produce a campaign, Green noted.
NAMSDL will be working with the experts at the meeting to draft model legislation that will be part of a toolbox of legislative options states can use starting early in 2014.