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Synthetic Drug Fight Continues

Published On: Feb 21 2013 03:43:00 PM CST
Updated On: Mar 25 2013 04:12:39 AM CDT

Police and prosecutors continue to play catch-up in stopping producers and sellers of synthetic drugs. Meanwhile, users continue to wind up in the hospital. Synthetic drugs first started popping up in the United States in 2008. Since then, the popularity of bath salts and other synthetics has increased. In 2010 Missouri lawmakers passed the state's first ban on the drugs. They have made changes to strengthen the laws, but some questions still remain about what's legal and what's not. Kristie Reeter has reported on the battle against synthetic drugs for years at ABC 17 News. Now she's working to discover the ingredients in the drugs, and why their chemistry causes problems for law enforcement officers. Her latest investigation finds that making a case of synthetic drugs is no easy process, and that may be the reason you can still find them in mid-Missouri stores. Yet, you can still find signs that the drugs are sending Missourians to the hospital. In January 2012, Poison Control in Missouri received 12 reports of synthetic drug exposure. A year later, that number only dropped to 11. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors say the fight continues. Now we're going through the same process cops do, to try to uncover the elusive products, and learning why it seems like a never-ending battle. In September 2012, ABC 17 News purchased two products at Bocomo Bay in Columbia -- a shop whose owner has been in trouble in the past for synthetic drugs. For less than $40 we bought "Jolly Roger" and "Diamond Angel." Both products claim, on their packaging, that they are not for consumption, but we wanted to see what was in them. We sent the products to the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education Laboratory in Pennsylvania. A couple of months later, the results came back. Adam Benne is a criminal supervisor at the Highway Patrol Crime Lab here in Missouri. While he did not test the products we sent off, he sat down with us to go over the findings we got from our Pennsylvania lab. "In the first one, was a compound called XLR11, in the second was a compound called JWH018 adamantyl carboxamide," Benne explained. We learned that those compounds are not on the long list of scheduled controlled substances in Missouri. Still it's hard to say whether they are truly legal. Missouri has an analogue statute, which means substances that have a similar chemical structure and similar effects on the central nervous system could be considered a controlled substance. Benne said, "there's not a lot of consensus in the forensic science community at this point for those specific compounds of whether or not they would fall into one of those categories of controlled substance analogue." Benne did say what our lab found in Jolly Roger is something they are seeing more of at the Missouri crime lab -- submitted from law enforcement agencies across the state. "Currently it is not scheduled, that doesn't necessarily mean that its not illegal, but it's not something a determination has been made on," Benne said. Police and prosecutors often deal with this frustration of sending products off for testing, only to receive results that indicate more testing may be needed to determine the legality of the substance. Detective Tom O'Sullivan, with the Boone County Sheriff's Department said, "ever since these synthetic products hit the market, it's a cat and mouse game between law enforcement and the manufactures of these products." Stephanie Morrell works with the Boone County Prosecutor's Office, and has handled synthetic drug cases. We asked her if she thought the current laws on synthetics were enough to tackle the problem. "I think the fact that we have the analogue definition that, that is kind of the best way we can address this issue, because they are constantly changing the chemical compound," Morrell said. "And so we could turn around tomorrow and add more items on the scheduled list and the manufacturers, tomorrow, are going to change the compound all over again." Morrell is currently using that part of the the law, in cases involving synthetics. "We do have cases that we believe we can establish that it is an analogue," she said. But roving it can prove to be a challenge. Prosecutors have to find expert witnesses to testify in court that these products are in fact illegal. "Even if we can establish that it is an analogue, it's structurally similar and it has the same effects," Morrell said. "Can we establish that his person physically was knowingly breaking the law?" Law enforcement officers say they feel money is driving this whole issue. "Where there is money to be made, people will find a way to skirt the law," Detective O'Sullivan said. While possession arrests and busts at smoke shops and con

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