AP Legal Affairs Writer
COLUMBUS — A proposed Ohio law seeks to end what a prosecutor called a “cat-and-mouse” game involving chemists changing synthetic drugs’ molecular content to keep them legal.
At issue are the sale and abuse of synthetic drugs such as bath salts and herbal incense, which can cause users to behave in bizarre and dangerous ways. Lawmakers first made the drugs illegal last year.
Current Ohio law bans a particular chemical compound used to make such drugs, said Matt Donahue, a special prosecutor with the Ohio attorney general’s office.
“If a police officer stops you with this compound, you’re going to jail just as if you were stopped for having heroin or cocaine,” he said Wednesday.
But clandestine chemists are altering the drugs’ chemical makeup in a way that makes prosecuting individuals for possession of such drugs impossible under Ohio law, Donahue said. Those drugs still have the same effect on a person but are now technically legal.
A legislative proposal would ban the practice of adding extra compounds to these drugs to skirt the law, Donahue said.
Under that bill, “we end this cat-and-mouse game of trying to add different compounds onto different parts of the chemical, and we give law enforcement the tools they need to fight this,” Donahue said.
Donahue’s boss, Attorney General Mike DeWine, announced a crackdown on synthetic drugs Wednesday, saying he will warn stores about criminal charges and civil lawsuits they could face for any involvement in making or distributing such drugs. In addition, police officers statewide will be trained to help them identify and handle synthetic drug cases.
DeWine likened individuals who package and sell synthetic drugs to cigarette makers’ past efforts to use cartoon figures to market cigarettes to young people.
The drugs, which can have effects similar to but longer-lasting than amphetamines, are often marketed in colorful packages with names like “Ninja,” ”Bizarro” or “Vanilla Sky,” or even with Disney characters. Packages can be as cheap as $10.
Authorities believe the drugs originally were produced in China but are now being made locally.
“These people are vicious marketers who are killing people, and they’re just bringing about horrible tragedies, and we’re not going to put up with it,” DeWine said.
Dennis Mann, an emergency room doctor in Dayton, said patients under the influence of bath salts can be disruptive and even violent, requiring security officers to intervene and draining already strapped hospitals of time and resources.
“They won’t follow directions, they won’t stay in the bed, they’ll try to climb out, they’ll run around the department,” Mann said Wednesday.