Proving the Illegality of Synthetic Designer Drugs Proves Challenging for Prosecutors

The dangers of so-called “designer” synthetic drugs are clear, which is why the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has worked to rid these deadly drugs from the streets of the nation. However, proving the dangers and illegality of these drugs has become a challenge to prosecutors.

Difficulties Abound When Attempting to Keep Up with New Synthetic Drugs

Unlike traditional drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, which fall under the category of controlled substances, designer synthetic drugs are often difficult to distinguish and categorize, thereby making the process of convicting individuals arrested for selling or distributing them incredibly challenging for prosecutors.

Specifically, prosecutors must be able to convince juries that these substances, which many times are sold out of gas stations and convenience stores under seemingly innocent names like “Vanilla Sky” and “Ivory Wave,” are the same ones that already appear on the government’s list of illegal drugs.

Many times, these drugs are sold freely and marketed in such a way as to avoid being detected as drugs, thereby making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to curb their sale and for prosecutors to prosecute those involved in their manufacture, sale and delivery.

Transforming these synthetic drugs, sometimes by a mere molecule or two, makes manufacturing and distributing them legal; that is, until the DEA catches on and categorizes them as legal drugs.

The Stark Reality of Synthetic Drugs

The head of diversion control at the DEA, Joseph Rannazzisi, reiterated the challenge of the DEA to stop these drugs when he said, “the chilling reality is that these drugs” are being manufactured faster than the “DEA can administratively control them.”

Between 2008 and 2012, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection tracked 145 shipments of synthetic drugs packaged and sold as “bath salts,” “explosions,” or “bubbles.” Many of the tracked shipments originated out of China and were on their way to parts of the United States, including California, Texas, and Washington, among others.

Synthetic-related calls to poison control centers increased nearly quadrupled between 2010 and 2011 alone, with 60 percent of all poisonings occurring among persons aged 25 years and younger, said the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

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