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Monday, February 16, 2015

Texas Considering New Approaches to Combatting Designer Drug Sale and Abuse

In recent years, the prevalence and use of synthetic designer drugs has posed great problems for legislatures, particularly compounds commonly known as “Spice” and “Bath Salts.” Spice is a generic name for synthetic cannabinoids, which are compounds that are not the same as, but that mimic the effects of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or the compound responsible for producing the psychological effects associated with smoking marijuana.  Bath salts are synthetic forms of Beta-ketone amphetamine compounds derived from cathinone, found naturally in the khat plant, native to East Africa and Southern Arabia. These chemicals are structurally similar to amphetamines and have similar effects on the brain and the body as amphetamines.

Despite the dangers associated with these drugs, including reports over 120 overdoses related to Spice in Texas over a period of five days, state legislatures have had difficulty regulating these drugs. Since 2011, all fifty states have enacted laws to ban Spice and Bath Salts as controlled substances. Many states, like Texas, ban these drugs by listing the specific chemical compounds as controlled substances. However, minor changes to the chemical composition of these substances can create new, but very similar, drugs not previously covered by law. These “new” drugs are then not illegal substances under the law, preventing law enforcement measures.  

Two bills recently introduced in the Texas Legislature may, if passed, provide new mechanisms to regulate these drugs, even as they continually evolve:

House Bill 1199, introduced by Rep. David Simpson, would make producing, selling, distributing, or promoting certain synthetic substances as a violation of the Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act (Tex. Bus. & Comm. Code  § 17.46(b)). This amendment would make available  the full remedies of the Texas DTPA to consumers harmed by these substances.

House Bill 1212, introduced by Rep. Walter “Four” Price, would allow abusable substances or compounds to be controlled through emergency procedures. It would amend the Health & Safety Code to allow the Texas Commission of Health to “emergency schedule” a controlled substance if necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety. If the commissioner schedules a new controlled substance under emergency circumstances, it would take effect upon publication in the Texas Register, with built-in expiration provisions. Such control would allow the state to act when new versions of these designer drugs appear on the market.

Though operating under different mechanisms, both of these bills could provide Texas with new options to keep pace with, if not eliminate, the manufacture and distribution of dangerous designer drugs in the state.  

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