From Salt Lake City Weekly
Banning new designer drugs is harder than it looks. With almost unanimous approval in both chambers, the Utah Legislature recently approved bans on spice
, a marijuana alternative, as well as Ivory Wave bath salts
, a stimulant, but products don’t disappear just because of a vote. Implementing and enforcing those bans—and keeping up with new drugs—may involve considerably more costs than lawmakers can anticipate. As new designer drugs come to market, the war on designer drugs is becoming a costly game of Whac-a-Mole.
The sudden emergence of several so-called designer drugs suggests that the war on drugs has entered a new and more difficult era, one in which lawmakers, doctors and police will need to play catch-up with new chemical products.
University of Utah’s Elizabeth Howell, M.D., past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, says she is concerned that a “tsunami” of new legal drugs may be coming onto the market. At least 18 patients she has treated have used bath salts, she told the Feb. 10 meeting of the Utah Controlled Substance Advisory Committee, and the effects are worrying. Mephedrone—already banned in the United Kingdom—is the active ingredient in the bath salts. Dr. Glen R. Hanson, a committee member, is currently studying mephedrone and, based on its molecular structure and user anecdotes, he said the drug seems like “ecstasy combined with cocaine.” In contrast with spice—which he says is “not a very addicting substance”—he and Howell believe mephedrone will prove to be very addictive and damaging to users.
The “tsunami” may be hitting Europe first. The United Kingdom’s Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs warns that 40 new “legal highs” have emerged in the U.K. since that country’s 2010 ban on mephedrone. In 2009, that committee identified 24 new and legal substances people were using recreationally. In 2008, that number was just 13, according a January report in London’s The Telegraph.
The target will forever keep moving, says the Drug Policy Alliance’s Grant Smith. “It doesn’t take much to alter the chemistry of these substances and get them legal again,” he says.