Florida adopted illegal chemicals law, but authorities expect new replacements

This Feb. 15, 2010, file photo shows a package of K2 , a concoction of dried herbs sprayed with chemicals. Cracking down on fake pot, the state  moved to outlaw chemicals used in herbal blends to make the synthetic marijuana sold in head shops and on the Internet to a growing number of teens and young adults.

AP Photo/ Kelley McCall, File

This Feb. 15, 2010, file photo shows a package of K2 , a concoction of dried herbs sprayed with chemicals. Cracking down on fake pot, the state moved to outlaw chemicals used in herbal blends to make the synthetic marijuana sold in head shops and on the Internet to a growing number of teens and young adults.

— Packets of bath salts, plant food and incense being sold in convenience stores probably won't put suds in your tub, help your flowers grow or make your house smell better, but authorities say that's not what they're intended for.

The otherwise-marketed substances typically are designed as a synthetic marijuana or a stimulant that mimics cocaine or methamphetamine.

"This stuff works by clogging up your brain cells," said Lt. Harold Minch, with the Collier County Sheriff's Office special investigations unit. "If you light anything on fire and suck it into your lungs, it's not good for you. Simple as that."

From 2010 to 2011, U.S. poison control centers saw their calls for synthetic marijuana more than double; their calls for "bath salts" increased 20-fold. Bans on the drugs in 30-plus states have been largely ineffective, as manufacturers have simply gone back to the lab and changed the chemical makeup of the substances, effectively making the bans worthless.

In March, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill banning more strands of the substances, meant to close loopholes found by manufacturers. Although there are now about 145 strands of chemicals made illegal, some law enforcement officers have a feeling they're in for another game of cat and mouse.

"I don't know what is going to prevent these people from just going back to the lab ... and substituting new chemicals that will rot your brain," Minch said.

Though not an alarming trend in Collier, Minch said the substances tend to be popular with people on probation because they often don't show up on a standard drug screen.

Teenagers also have been known to use the drugs because of their perception as being legal.

"One of the big things is just the availability that you can just go into the gas station and get them," said Steven Hill, director at the Vince Smith Center, which provides residential treatment in Lee County for 13- to 17-year-olds. "Over the past year, we've seen a huge increase in our youths."

Although teenage patients in the residential program tend to have more extreme histories of drug use, Hill said at least 80 percent of those in the program had experimented with synthetic drugs. A handful of them are being treated primarily for synthetic drug use, he said.

Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott

Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott

"In a community of our size, there's no doubt that it's out there," Lee Sheriff Mike Scott said. "It's kind of like when people were sniffing glue or taking the aerosol cans — they called it huffing. People just do what they want to get into an altered state."

Elsewhere in Lee County, a handful of people have been arrested on synthetic drug charges, although it is typically an added charge in connection with another crime, Sheriff Mike Scott said.

"In a community of our size, there's no doubt that it's out there," sheriff Scott said. "It's kind of like when people were sniffing glue or taking the aerosol cans — they called it huffing. People just do what they want to get into an altered state."

The spinning wheel of manufacturing changes is also a problem when it comes to testing people for the substances, said Emily Castillo, clinical supervisor at the Collier-based David Lawrence Center.

"The drug tests are almost behind, with all the new changes coming out," she said. "They're expensive, and there are so many different strands (of the drugs) that we don't necessarily have a test if there's a new strand coming out."

And it has made it hard for authorities to make arrests. Packages of the substances were taken from four or five Collier stores last year to be tested, but none contained chemicals that were considered illegal, sheriff's lieutenant Minch said.

No arrests have been made for people using the drugs, either.

"We don't want to arrest somebody who doesn't have something illegal in them," he said.

Despite setbacks, in the aftermath of the governor's new ban, sheriff's officials say they will keep an eye on businesses that carry the synthetic drugs.

"If they're dirty and illegal, we'll put them in jail," Minch said. "The people that are selling it are preying on basically stupidity for profit, which is disgraceful.

"They sell it anyway."

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 6

Dilbert writes:

So instead of allowing a natural plant to be used...We CAN use manufactured substances legally, though they might hurt us more?

When Deputies stop Drinking Coffee and Smoking Cigarettes , I might believe the stories they spin. Until then I will follow the law and not smoke or caffinate. I do agree...ANYTHING in your lungs can be bad, I better buy a respirator!

MisterK writes:

A Republic of Idiots...petroleum based chemical intoxication is the work of Satan. Naturally released chemicals are way better. Meditation and prayer, running and music are all capable of releasing these natural chemicals.

blueblueblue writes:

and it all eventually ends up in our soil, air, and water.

John_Galt writes:

End the war on drugs. It destroys our liberty, our community and our nation. It's responsible for 30,000 deaths per year on the US-Mexico border. It costs US Taxpayers 88 Billion per year! People continue to use and abuse drugs.

Regulate drugs like alcohol. Make it legal, but use existing laws and pass new laws if necessary to ensure that people don't drive, go to work, etc. while using drugs.

The people that really want to use them are going to continue to use them (as they have done for the last 40 years since the war on drugs started).

At least when the government started prohibition, they did it legally, by passing a constitutional amendment. There was never an amendment to ban the use of drugs. If you love the constitution, end the war on drugs.

cabagepalm writes:

What about all the energy drinks? What is in them? What effect on people?

Klaatu writes:

What Republicans making more laws?
Making Government bigger and more intrusive!

But don't the claim they're against these things??

Ohh they're only against the laws that inhabit the robber barons !

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