Committee holds 1st hearing on synthetic drugs

Published 9:32 am Wednesday, July 10, 2013

ST. PAUL — A legislative committee formed to help the fight against synthetic drugs met Tuesday for the first time.

The Select Committee on Controlled Substances and Synthetic Drugs, chaired by Rep. Erik Simonson, plans to research solutions and submit a report to the Legislature when it reconvenes in January.

Simonson, DFL-Duluth, said the report will include recommendations for new laws as well as ideas about how the state can help educate the public about the risks.

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The problem is not limited to Duluth, he said, even though his home city has been the center of the synthetic drug debate in Minnesota because a head shop there sells the products despite complaints from city officials, residents and businesses.

Last Place on Earth owner Jim Carlson also faces federal criminal charges but says the products he sells are legal.

Emergency rooms have seen a rise in patients with side effects from synthetic drugs. In 2011, a 19-year-old died after ingesting a synthetic drug at a party in Blaine.

The drugs mimic cannabinoids such as marijuana, stimulants such as cocaine and hallucinogens such as ecstasy. The manufacturers keep tweaking the formulas just enough to stay a step ahead of the law. Experts warn there’s no way users can be sure of what they’re taking or how the substances will affect them.

“It’s like Russian roulette,” Cody Wiberg, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, told lawmakers at Tuesday’s hearing. “You might pull the trigger several times and nothing happens, but sooner or later you might kill yourself. … One bad batch and you can end up in the emergency room or dead.”

The panel’s next hearing is Aug. 22 in Brainerd.