Missouri drug law to curb synthetic drug usage

KENNETT, MO (KAIT) – Law enforcement agencies in Missouri Monday went around to different stores that have been selling synthetic substances to make sure the products were no longer on store shelves.

Sunday, a Missouri state law went into effect restricting the sale of "synthetic cannabinoids and other substances." Region 8 News talked to Dunklin County Prosecutor Stephen Sokoloff Monday about the new legislation. Sokoloff said he hopes the law will help police crack down on the substance until sellers find another way to get their product to customers.

"I don't have any realistic expectation that this is going to be the end of it," said Sokoloff. "Right now, we've caught up for the time being. One would hope that structuring the statute the way that they did, it'll give us a little breathing room before they come up with a different class of analog chemicals."

Sokoloff said the state already banned "K2", which mimics the side effects of marijuana. He said manufacturers altered the chemical compounds, allowing them to legally sell the product. Sokoloff said the new law allows regulation of "synthetic cannabinoids," as well as other substances.

"The big difference is that cocaine is derived from the coco plant. Marijuana is obviously derived from the marijuana plant. The active ingredient in it is THC, which is transdelta hydrocannabinol. These are just lab created lab analogs. That is, they're chemically similar in structured substances to marijuana," said Sokoloff.

According to an Associated Press report, 2,700 people got sick due to synthetic substances through the first few months of 2011, compared to approximately 3,200 in 2010. The report also suggested 38 states, including Arkansas, have looked at similar legislation as Missouri's.

"Anything that is in that type of drug class is now illegal and it's not limited to specific substances," said Sokoloff.

Sokoloff said the synthetic drug problem is "significant"; however, they've only had a handful of cases come through the court system. He said he expected that to change as people become more open to trying the drug.

"The bath salts, which are cathanone drugs, are kind of similar in the effect of cocaine," said Sokoloff. "Bocomo and 'K3' and bath salts, which there are two different areas. The 'K3' and the Bocomo are synthetic cannabinoids that are basically like synthetic marijuana."

Kennett Police Chief Barry Tate said he's not opposed to bath salts being illegalized. He said despite its legitimate uses, he wants to penalize those who violate state law.

"We're number one in the deaths. There haven't been a whole lot of deaths, but we're number one in the state of Missouri and we don't want to be," said Tate. "Bath salts are probably the most dangerous. You hate to say that you hope to see a ban on it because people probably use it every day. Unfortunately, these people are using it to violate the laws of the state of Missouri and they've got to be stopped."

Sokoloff said testing is being developed to look for synthetic substances.

"They are sufficiently chemically different from the things they are mimicking. The tests have to be very specific for substances or else you end up with false positives and that sort of thing, which really blunts the effectiveness of the testing," said Sokoloff. "The biggest issue with these things is a back log for testing."

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